Educators across Texas aren’t waiting for Gov. Greg Abbott to change his mind regarding student safety as they return to the classroom.
Districts such as the Houston Independent School District (HISD), Spring ISD, Austin ISD, Dallas ISD, Fort Worth ISD and four districts in the San Antonio region have all announced they will require students and teachers to wear masks to begin the school year. Abbott previously ended the mask mandate statewide in March.
The state has threatened to sue the districts over defiance of Abbott’s banning of masks in schools and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has announced the legislature may vote to cut the funding of schools who don’t comply with Abbott’s order.
In HISD’s case, the district was supposed to hold a vote with the school board on Thursday (August 12) but new superintendent Millard House stated the vote wasn’t necessary. Last week, the board unanimously stated they supported the mask mandate for students and teachers, citing health and safety concerns with rising COVID-19 cases and the Delta variant of the deadly virus.
“You know, we’re in the midst of a pandemic,” House said during a press conference whether he was fearful of retaliation from the state. “I don’t see retaliation as a method that anyone looks to use, quite frankly.”
HISD students return to the classroom on August 23. A webinar has been announced for August 13 at 5:30 PM to help educate parents and students on the new changes.
Fort Bend County has also announced a mask mandate after receiving a temporary stay against Abbott’s executive order.
Spring ISD Superintendent Dr. Rodney Watson said the district will be asking parents their thoughts on the potential of remote learning for this school year while emphasizing the need to not lose any students to COVID. Spring students will return to the classroom on August 16.
“I don’t want to focus so much on defying the governor. We are ensuring that our kids are safe. We’re ensuring that our teachers are safe. And we’re ensuring the learning needs for each student is met,” Watson said.
Austin ISD Superintendent Dr. Stephanie Elizalde cited masks will be a must in her district beginning on August 17. “When you see the science, when you see the data, and then you apply that to your local context,” she said. “Austin is my community now, and so when I see and I hear that there are no more ICU beds and I haven’t put students into classrooms yet, and I’m going to put students in classrooms with teachers, with staff members, and we know that masking is one of the most effective COVID protocols other than vaccination, and I’m not able to do that, really required me to ask myself: Why are you the superintendent?”
As of August 10, there were 20,000 new cases of COVID-19 in the state of Texas, bringing the state’s total to 3.26 million since the beginning of the pandemic.
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