AUSTIN (KXAN) — “Parents, share your concerns with your schools. They need to hear from you.”
That’s part of a plea that Austin Mayor Steve Adler posted Tuesday as schools across Texas prepare to return to in-person learning for the new academic year — just as COVID-19 cases nationwide have surged.
But as many districts in the country move to enforce student mask-wearing, Texas districts are bound by an executive order from Governor Greg Abbott, which banned mask mandates from governmental entities.
It’s a decision the Governor continued to back on Tuesday.
“The time for government mask mandates is over—now is the time for personal responsibility,” the Governor tweeted.
Texas Democrats have already expressed much concern for spread among students and on Tuesday, Mayor Adler once again called out the governor with strong words.
“As the CDC prepares to recommend all K-12 students wear masks, a reminder that @GovAbbott has made it impossible for Texas schools to protect students and for cities to protect its citizens,” Adler tweeted.
The Texas State Teachers Association is also waving red flags, trying to get the Governor to rescind his executive order.
“If Gov. Abbott really cares about the health and safety of Texas students, educators and their communities, he will give local school officials and health experts the option of requiring masks in their schools,” TSTA President Ovidia Molina wrote.
On Monday, Austin Independent School District announced it would offer a virtual learning option for kindergarten through sixth grade students this fall. The decision came days after Austin-Travis County entered Stage 4 guidelines for COVID-19 risk.
That’s an option Dripping Springs ISD mom Kristin Quick is seriously considering for her two elementary aged students. Aside from masks, she is hoping local school districts begin offering greater safety precautions to protect the in-person students, like strict social distancing in the classrooms and cafeteria as well as canceled assemblies and field trips.
“I don’t think it’s safe to send either of my children to school without strict protocols in place,” Quick said. “I’m not the only one with a medically fragile child. And mine is definitely not the worst. There are lots of other parents who have medically fragile children who feel like they are being overlooked.”
The case surge in Austin coincides with many areas of the country — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are expected to announce amended guidelines later Tuesday: urging even some vaccinated people wear masks indoors.
Adler is urging Austin ISD families to take a survey, where they can select options for in-person learning that would make them more comfortable, including: optional all-mask classrooms, temperature checks, health screening questions, and meals being served in classrooms.
Despite the recent surge in cases and hospitalizations statewide, Abbott said last week he would not reinstate a mask mandate. Under Abbott’s executive order, schools could be fined up to $1,000 for trying to enforce mask-wearing. Texas is among at least nine other states that have banned mask mandates in schools.
In a statement Tuesday, Abbott’s office told KXAN in part: “Governor Abbott has been clear that the time for government mandating of masks is over—now is the time for personal responsibility. Every Texan has the right to choose whether they will wear a mask, or have their children wear masks.”
“We don’t want to get involved in a legal issue with the Governor, and want to try to avoid that if we can,” Adler said last week. “But if there was a way right now to order that all students have to wear masks in school, we would be doing it.”
The 2021-22 school year begins August 17.