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COVID-19

Hays CISD Holds Off On Mask Mandate, Calling It Impossible To Enforce

The Hays Consolidated Independent School District headquarters.
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT
Hays CISD said issuing a mandate right now would be "disingenuous," because it can't guarantee all students across campuses will actually wear masks.

Hays CISD said it will not institute a mask mandate, citing difficulties with enforcement and questions of legality.

"If I thought I could issue a mandate that would actually be a mandate, then we wouldn’t be having this conversation tonight," Superintendent Eric Wright said at a board meeting Monday.

The district ultimately said that issuing a mandate right now would be "disingenuous," because it can't guarantee all students across campuses will actually wear masks. Officials also are not going to send students home if they show up to school without one, for example.

Wright said many school districts with mask mandates allow for written opt-outs, and that they aren't removing students from school, either.

"If you're not absolutely going to have the ability to enforce, then it’s just window dressing," Wright said. "I think a lot of people are making a decision that is right for them, and I think the majority of our people are wearing masks."

Earlier this month, Hays County Judge Ruben Becerra issued a local order mandating masks for all public K-12 schools. Board member Merideth Keller said that order doesn't help the district, calling it "make believe."

"There is absolutely no measure of enforcement associated with that [order]," Keller said.

A provision in the judge's order says compliance with the mandate is based on "self-regulation and a community commitment to public health and safety under the threat of COVID-19."

"That put all of us in a really bad position because so many people think, ah, Judge Becerra said there was a mandate," Keller said. "When we're like — wait a minute; we [still] don't know what we can do."

The question of whether mandating masks in schools is legal is still making its way through the courts. Several districts sued Gov. Greg Abbott over his executive order banning mask mandates. A district court granted San Antonio and Bexar County a temporary injunction putting his order on hold while that case is heard, effectively allowing mask requirements. On Monday, the state asked the Texas Supreme Court to toss that injunction.

District spokesman Tim Savoy said the district is ultimately waiting for a final decision from the Texas Supreme Court, though it believes the all-Republican court will side with the governor.

"We are preparing for that likelihood," Savoy said in a statement. "If the Supreme Court determines that local mandates are enforceable, we will look at our options at that point."

Board member Esperanza Orosco said the district is already doing everything it can within the scope of its control. A mask mandate, she said, is not one of those things.

"We are doing the cleaning, the sanitizing, we are making sure that we do have and reinforce seating arrangements. ... We are having our air filters cleaned, we are having water filling stations, we’re doing contract tracing," Orosco said.

The district is also updating a weekly dashboard with new cases, which Orosco said is not required by the Texas Education Agency. The first numbers of the year were published Monday; there were 23 students and 33 staff members who tested positive for COVID-19 during the first week of classes.

"I don’t want to put our staff in peril,"Orosco said of asking teachers to enforce mask-wearing in classrooms. "Teachers already have enough to do."

Instead, Orosco said the district should focus on combatting pandemic learning loss.

"I want our teachers to be focused on educating our students. We have a lot of accelerating to do right now," she said. "We don’t have to put [our teachers] on the front lines of some political war that’s out there."

San Marcos CISD is the only district in Hays County with a mask mandate in place; Dripping Springs ISD and Wimberley ISD have both made mask-wearing optional.

Got a tip? Email Riane Roldan at rroldan@kut.org. Follow her on Twitter @RianeRoldan.

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