AUSTIN (KXAN) — Ongoing unrest over masking in schools in Texas has again snagged national attention.
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel A. Cardona sent a letter to Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Mike Morath, Texas Education Agency Commissioner, explaining that the continued ban on face masks for students and staff in public schools may prevent districts from protecting their communities.
In the letter, Cardona writes:
“Texas’s recent actions to block school districts from voluntarily adopting science-based strategies for preventing the spread of COVID-19 that are aligned with the guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) puts these goals at risk and may infringe upon a school district’s authority to adopt policies to protect students and educators as they develop their safe return to in-person instruction plans required by Federal law.”U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel A. Cardona
As the new school year begins for districts statewide, many parents, staff and students are concerned — as the return to in-person learning coincides with a national spike in COVID-19 cases, especially among the unvaccinated. Currently, only children ages 12 and older are eligible to get a vaccine.
Adding to the worry is the now-dominant delta variant, which experts repeat is proving to be more aggressive with children than previous strains.
Despite the surging case numbers and troubling hospitalization capacities, Abbott has not yet wavered from previous statements that the time for mandates are over. Instead, the governor — who has promoted optional vaccinations for residents — urges “personal responsibility” among Texans.
And across the state, many cities and school districts are doing just that: making their own personal decisions to require masking, despite the governor’s ban.
In Texas’ Capitol, the City of Austin ruled this week to require face masks for residents in county buildings and public schools, with Travis County Judge Andy Brown explaining the orders were signed in order to “protect countless lives and keep us safe.” Under the order, students, staff and visitors over the age of two would be required to wear face coverings while on school property during Stages 3-5 of COVID-19-risk in the area.
Many of Texas’ other biggest school districts have already implemented their own mask requirements, including Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston ISDs. On Tuesday, Abbott responded in part: “Violating the Governor’s orders — and violating parental rights — is not the way to do it.”
On Friday, Travis County District Court Judge Jan Soifer granted a restraining order against Abbott’s executive order, but for the many parents behind the lawsuit, the relief will be short-lived as the restraining order will only last 10 days. Meanwhile, district judges also ruled to allow Dallas and Bexar counties the authority to implement their mask mandates, at least temporarily.
There are currently at least 43 Texas school districts with mask mandates in place. Abbott will likely take the fight to keep his mask ban ban to the Texas Supreme Court, the Texas Tribune reports.
In the Secretary of Education’s letter, Sec. Cardona explains that the Department of Education stands with the districts who have implemented mask mandates, in addition to saying that federal money can be used to fund actions being made to enact COVID-19 safety measures.
Cardona ends the letter, saying: “The Department will continue to closely review and monitor whether Texas is meeting all of its Federal fiscal requirements. It’s critical that we do everything in our power to provide a safe environment for our students and staff to thrive.”