As Houston ISD proposes mask mandate, Austin ISD calls special board meeting Monday on COVID-19 safety

Education

AUSTIN (KXAN) — One day after the Houston Independent School District superintendent proposed a mask mandate for all students and staff in his district, the Austin Independent School District Board of Trustees called for a special board meeting to be held Monday.

The AISD agenda does not list specifics, only two separate presentations on COVID-19 health and safety and an executive session. However, the agenda notes Austin Public Health moved the area to Stage 5 risk based guidelines on Thursday and said it is “committed to providing a safe and healthy environment.”

A district spokesperson did not have any further details on what the special board meeting will entail.

HISD’s superintendent Millard House II told trustees he expects pushback from both the public and the state government on his proposed mask mandate, but said he believes it will make a difference in decreasing local hospitalizations and surging positive cases.

“We will not be able to please everyone. But what we have to understand is that if we have an opportunity to save one life, it’s what we should be doing,” House said.

The mask mandate will be presented to the HISD board next week for a vote to become ratified.

Political science expert and professor at the University of Houston Brandon Rottinghaus said the governor’s executive order, which explicitly prohibits school districts and other municipalities from requiring masks, is strong, but vulnerable to legal challenges.

“The governor’s action can be checked by the judiciary [branch]. If they believe the governor has gone too far and has exceeded his executive capacity, the judiciary may decide that is something that is not permissible constitutionally,” Rottinghaus said.

He says that’s likely the reason Abbott added the mask prohibition to the agenda of the second special session which begins Saturday. If lawmakers codify it, the order becomes a lot stronger.

“That’s something the governor understands and is hoping the legislation is going to back him in that effort,” Rottinghaus said.

If school districts defy the order, each will be forced to pay a $1,000 fine. However, Rottinghaus said it’s possible the defiance alone will draw the ire of the governor and could lead to further repercussions.

Reach KXAN’s Education Reporter Alex Caprariello by email at alexc@kxan.com or by phone at 512-703-5365, or find him on Twitter and Facebook.

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