With the start of the school year drawing closer and COVID-19 once again surging in the state, more and more school districts are ignoring Gov. Greg Abbott’s prohibition on mask mandates.
On Wednesday, Fort Worth ISD became the latest school district to defy the governor’s mask mandate ban. Dallas and Austin ISD announced they would be requiring masks earlier this week, and Houston ISD is scheduled to have a board meeting vote over the issue on Thursday.
City and county officials in Harris County, San Antonio, and Dallas are acting in a similar fashion and suing the governor to secure temporary restraining orders against Abbott’s executive order that prevents them from issuing local mask mandates.
A similar move was performed by Travis County back in March when Abbott lifted the statewide mask mandate and Austin officials chose to continue requiring them. In response, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued Austin Mayor Steve Adler and Travis County Judge Andy Brown. A district court judge sided with the Austin leaders and the local mask mandate was allowed to continue. Paxton was expected to appeal and continue the litigation, but no movement on the case has happened since.
Aside from a lukewarm statement to the media, Abbott has been uncharastically silent about the revolt from school districts this week or what his plans, if any, for retribution are. Paxton less so; speaking to conservative radio host Mark Davis on Wednesday morning, the state attorney general promised to have a ruling from the Republican-controlled Texas Supreme Court to defend the governor by the end of the week.
In Houston, teachers’ unions are pushing Houston ISD board members to follow suit and require masks in schools.
Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, middle school teacher and Vice President of the Houston Federation of Teachers Daniel Santos said the district must act immediately to keep students and staff safe.
“Instead of listening to public health experts, Governor Greg Abbott and the Texas Education Agency are playing politics with our children’s lives,” Santos said. “The Abbott administration has used the emergency public health powers it was entrusted with to block school districts from keeping our kids safe.”
Aldine American Federation of Teachers President Candis Houston said Aldine ISD is strongly recommending masks but not requiring them.
“We’re hoping HISD board of trustees approve [the mask mandate] because what we know is other school districts, they tend to follow the lead of HISD,” Houston said.