The question of whether Texas can ban school mask mandates from the executive branch is judiciary-tied and could soon be eroded in the legislature.
Legislature tabled bills in its second special session that would codify Governor Greg Abbott’s executive order prohibiting district leaders from requesting face-covering. And they have also tabled bills that would allow local trustees to set their own guidelines for masks.
The battle over masks that the state government has been consuming is unfolding as millions of public school students return to school amid rapidly changing security protocols as the Delta variant drives COVID-19 cases high.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend universal masking in schools, regardless of vaccination status. More than half of Texas public school students are not yet eligible for the coronavirus vaccination.
Several school districts – including Dallas and Richardson – continue to require masks, while many others have kept them optional. Some counties are upside down as the litigation drags on over Abbott’s order.
“This back and forth just disrupts school operations,” said Richardson Superintendent Jeannie Stone last week. “I remain confident that the local context and decisions will be left to the superintendents, based on data based on input from health officials in our community.”
Abbott stated in his call for the special session that “wearing face coverings is not compulsory in public schools”.
Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, introduced a bill stating that kindergarten students through 12th grade “may not be required to wear a face mask or covering as a condition of admission, further enrollment, or attendance of students.” every public school in this state. “
It is scheduled for a hearing on the public education committee on August 30th. He did not immediately return a request for comment.
Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, chairman of the public education committee, has meanwhile tabled law allowing a district’s board of trustees “to require a person to wear a face mask, mask, or other face covering, to reduce the spread ”. of contagious, contagious and communicable diseases ”in schools. It’s also scheduled for a hearing on August 30th.
“A better solution to all of this is to let the local communities make their own decisions about whether or not there should be a mask mandate,” he said. “If you look at the historical context and the way this committee has operated in the past, we have always been wrong on the side of the local communities that made their decisions.
“I don’t see any reason why we should change that now.”
MEP Rafael Anchía, D-Dallas, is campaigning for similar legislation.
“The aim is to ensure that a bill to codify the governor’s mandate never sees the light of day,” said Anchía. “This includes fighting against it in the public education committee and then, when it hits the ground, fighting against it there. Finally, if necessary, speak of the end of the calendar at the end of the session. “
Such a law, he said, “would be catastrophic to our fight against COVID and would put many children, many public school children, at risk.”
The fight for mask mandates is now largely confined to the courts.
A Dallas judge ruled Wednesday that Abbott’s order violates Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins’ ability to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.
Judge Tonya Parker’s decision to issue an injunction is likely to be appealed to the Fifth Court of Appeals in Dallas and later to the Texas Supreme Court before a final decision is made on the case.
Other jurisdictions are mired in a similar back and forth.
Disability Rights Texas also filed a federal lawsuit against the governor alleging its mask mandate ban violates federal anti-discrimination law, which prohibits the exclusion of students with disabilities from public education.
The Texas Education Agency recently informed the superintendent that Abbott’s order “is not being enforced due to ongoing litigation.” However, Attorney General Ken Paxton has promised to sue the districts that oppose the governor.
The DMN Education Lab deepens reporting and discussion on pressing educational issues that are critical to the future of North Texas.
The DMN Education Lab is a community-funded journalism initiative with support from The Beck Group, Bobby and Lottye Lyle, Communities Foundation of Texas, The Dallas Foundation, Dallas Regional Chamber, Deedie Rose, The Meadows Foundation, Solutions Journalism Network, Southern Methodist University and Todd A. Williams Family Foundation. The Dallas Morning News retains full editorial control over the Education Lab’s journalism.
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