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School Districts And Local Governments Weigh Bucking The Governor's Ban On Mask Mandates

A protective face mask hangs from a rear view mirror of a car during the coronavirus pandemic.
Gabriel C. Pérez/KUT
A protective face mask hangs from a rear view mirror of a car during the coronavirus pandemic.

From Texas Standard:

Gov. Greg Abbott is sticking to his pledge to prohibit mask mandates as the delta variant of COVID-19 sweeps across Texas. But local governments and school districts are looking for options to slow the spread of the virus, especially as school begins across the state this month.

Allie Morris is an Austin bureau correspondent for The Dallas Morning News. She told Texas Standard that Houston ISD, the biggest school district in the state, plans to impose a mask requirement this fall. The school board must approve the mandate before it could take effect.

Morris says the Houston board's decision, along with pressure from public health officials, is likely to lead other school districts in Texas to create their own mask mandates, in defiance of the governor's order. Today, Dallas ISD also announced it will mandate masks.

"That could lead to a slew of other action from school districts, who are getting a lot of pressure from public health officials and parents to consider masking mandates or other safety measures, given that students under 12 are not eligible to get the vaccine right now," Morris said.

Also in Houston, Mayor Sylvester Turner has issued a mask requirement for city employees. Morris said Turner's office interprets Abbott's order to prevent local governments from mandating masks for the public. Under this interpretation, cities like Houston would be free to require their employees to wear masks.

"I think we're going to see local officials trying to find loopholes in this order, and see how far they can push the envelope," Morris said.

The governor has said Texans should take "personal responsibility" for protecting themselves against COVID-19.

Morris said a member of the Texas Board of Education she spoke with noted that the fine for violating Abbott's order is $1,000 and that jail time isn't an option for violators.

"[The board member has] offered to raise money for school districts that want to violate the order, to help pay those fines," Morris said.

How, and how often the fine might be applied by the state is unclear, Morris said.

Earlier in the pandemic, Morris said Abbott provided flexibility for hospitals and communities on COVID restrictions when outbreaks were at their worst. But, she said, it remains to be seen whether current rules will be relaxed as the delta variant continues to spread.