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Texas Bans Schools From Requiring Masks. One District's Workaround? Make Them Part Of The Dress Code.

 Austin ISD Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde walks passed a sign stating that masks are required on the first day of school at Travis High School on Aug. 17.
Jordan Vonderhaar
Austin ISD Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde walks passed a sign stating that masks are required on the first day of school at Travis High School on Tuesday.

Students this year in the Paris Independent School District can't wear leggings. Or ripped jeans. Or strapless tops. Or any other "clothing which is extremely revealing of the body."

"IF IN DOUBT, DO NOT WEAR IT," the Northeast Texas school district's dress code reads.

But as of Tuesday night, the district added another requirement in the hopes of covering students up: masks.

As districts, cities and counties fight Gov. Greg Abbott's order that bans mask mandates in Texas schools, the district Tuesday voted to require them in its dress code.

The workaround, the district says, is permissible, as Abbott's order from late July, known as GA-38, doesn't explicitly prohibit districts from amending their dress code policies.

"Nothing in the Governor’s Executive Order 38 states he has suspended Chapter 11 of the Texas Education Code, and therefore the Board has elected to amend its dress code consistent with its statutory authority," read a district statement after the school board's vote Tuesday.

But, novel as it is, the tactic likely won't pass muster.

Stephen Vladeck, a UT law professor and legal scholar, says the governor's power under the Texas Disaster Act is broad, and GA-38 does explicitly prohibit "any face-covering requirement." It supersedes any requirement, he argues, even if it's tucked away in the dress code.

"I don't see how it will succeed other than temporarily," Vladeck told KUT.

While some challenges to Abbott's ban on mask mandates have yielded temporary pauses on the governor's order in districts across the state, Vladeck says they won’t prevail at the Texas Supreme Court.

The challenges range: Some districts and counties aim to declare the ban is unconstitutional. Others are looking for carve-outs that would exempt some districts.

Still, all of the Texas Supreme Court justices are Republicans, and all of those challenges will ultimately go to that court — the highest civil court in the state.

"It is all, I think, one mess and morass. … I think the odds are pretty good that the Texas Supreme Court is going to ultimately side with the governor on the merits," Vladeck said. "But some folks on some school boards and in school districts think every day that they can keep these mask mandates in place is worth it at this point."

Currently there are challenges to Abbott's order in four of Texas’ largest counties. San Antonio’s challenge was in court this week. Challenges from Dallas, Houston, a group of Austin parents and some Rio Grande Valley school districts will be in court next week.

All this comes as kids head back to school, as COVID-related hospitalizations spike statewide and as the governor himself was diagnosed with COVID-19.

Andrew Weber is a general assignment reporter for KUT, focusing on criminal justice, policing, courts and homelessness in Austin and Travis County. Got a tip? You can email him at Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.
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