Texas Schools Allowed to Defy Abbott’s Ban on Mask Mandates — for Now

The agency tasked with regulating schools in Texas issued new guidance on Thursday stating it will stop enforcing a ban on masking rules.

The guidance is temporary, pending the resolution of litigation involving school districts that have attempted to require masking in defiance of Gov. Greg Abbott (R-Texas), who issued an executive order banning such requirements. But the move by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) indicates that, for now, children’s safety will be prioritized.

A number of school districts have challenged Abbott’s ban, as the governor tries to keep it intact through the courts. Some districts have pursued creative ways to circumvent the ban on masking rules, including the Paris Independent School District, which temporarily made masks part of the employee and student dress codes.

The state Supreme Court also issued a temporary ruling, refusing to say that districts have to undo their masking rules until the lawsuits are resolved.

TEA’s new recommendations include allowing public school districts, in consultation with their respective local health officials, to come up with plans for mitigating the spread of COVID-19 in their hallways. Masking requirements are now allowed as a means to that end, the agency said.

TEA is also requiring that schools notify health departments if students test positive for coronavirus, and to let parents or guardians know if a student in their child’s classroom or extracurricular activity tested positive as well.

The pandemic is quickly worsening in Texas, due in part to the spread of the more highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus. The state also has a low vaccination rate for COVID-19, with only 46 percent of residents fully vaccinated at this time.

The recent surge of coronavirus cases in Texas is also impacting more children. Last week, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins released a statement detailing the increases in hospitalizations, noting that numbers were rising higher for younger populations in the state.

“In Dallas, we have zero ICU beds left for children. That means if your child’s in a car wreck, if your child has a congenital heart defect or something and needs an ICU bed, or more likely if they have COVID and need an ICU bed, we don’t have one,” Jenkins said. “Your child will wait for another child to die.”

In spite of the governor’s ban, Texans overwhelmingly support the use of mask mandates for schools to keep children better protected against COVID-19.

In a Spectrum News/Ipsos poll conducted in the state from August 6 to 13, 72 percent of respondents said they backed mask requirements in K-12 schools, while less than three-in-ten Texans (28 percent) said they opposed the idea. Among parents, 66 percent in the poll said they are worried about their child contracting coronavirus while at school.