Masks in schools

Texas School Districts Respond to Governor's Announcement

On Tuesday, March 2, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced that all Texas businesses will be allowed to reopen to 100% capacity and that he is rescinding the statewide mask mandate. These changes will take effect at 12:01 a.m. on Wednesday, March 10.

School district superintendents around the state, who say they received no advance warning of the policy change, were left to craft their own regulations as parents and teachers waited expectantly for guidance. Abbott made no specific mention of schools in his speech or in the executive order dictating the changes. However, in a radio interview afterward, Abbott said he would leave the decision to mandate masks up to local school boards.

The announcement comes on the heels of the CDC’s most recent set of guidelines on how to safely reopen schools, which lists “universal and correct use of masks” as the first of its five mitigation strategies to reduce the risk of virus transmission in schools.

The CDC’s guidelines state in no uncertain terms, “Universal and correct use of masks should be required, at all levels of community transmission. Require consistent and correct use of face masks, by all students, teachers, and staff to prevent SARS-CoV-2 transmission through respiratory droplets.”

Many North Texas and Central Texas school districts have said they will follow any new guidelines set by the Texas Education Agency. The agency tweeted on Tuesday afternoon, “Governor Abbott’s Executive Order (GA-34) takes effect next Wed., March 10, 2021. Updated public health guidance from TEA will be coming this week.”

As they wait for an overhead decision, though, many districts have indicated that they will continue to require students, faculty, and staff to wear masks during in-person learning.

In North Texas, a Dallas ISD spokesperson said, “We will follow CDC guidelines as these discussions continue internally. As of now, we do not anticipate changes before the end of the school year.”

Fort Worth ISD released a statement that read, “…absent any new guidance from the Texas Education Agency, all current Fort Worth COVID-19 practices will remain in effect.”

Denton ISD’s statement read that the district “remains committed to the protocols currently in place, including wearing face coverings…the district’s current Health/Safety Protocols have been developed with guidance from local officials, including Denton County Health Services, and are based on protocols from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and recommendations from the Texas Education Agency (TEA).”

Denton ISD superintendent Dr. Jamie Wilson also commented, “Our teachers have yet to be prioritized for the COVID-19 vaccine, and they have been on the frontlines throughout the pandemic—keeping schools open for our students. We will look at our protocols based on the announcement, and the safety of our students and staff is paramount.”

School districts across Central Texas saw a similar split between those waiting for new TEA guidance and those choosing to stay the course. Pflugerville ISD and Hays, Round Rock, Leander, and Lockhart CISDs have already stated that masks will still be required in school buildings. Austin ISD, as well as Eanes and San Marcos CISDs, have said that their current regulations will remain in effect unless the TEA says otherwise.

Some school officials, though, have expressed their personal feelings on the matter.

“Every time the governor speaks, it’s a slap in the face to educators, because he is not listening to us,” said Ovida Molina, Texas State Teachers Association president. “We want to be safe, we want to be back in schools, and this is not the way to get us there.”