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Eanes ISD Starts Stricter Mask Enforcement In Schools Amid Tensions Over Rules

A bulletin board displayed outside the Eanes Independent School District administration building.
Gabriel C. Pérez
A bulletin board displayed outside the Eanes Independent School District administration building on Aug. 17.

Amid local, legal and sometimes physical disputes over mask rules, the Eanes Independent School District on Friday started implementing a stricter mask mandate for students and staff.

Superintendent Tom Leonard said all students will be required to wear masks when they arrive to their schools; those who don't comply will be separated from the rest.

“We’ll explain the rule, we will offer a mask. If you still refuse to wear a mask, we will bring you to a separate location away from the students who are wearing masks," he said. "We will provide instructional materials, assignments, and ... you will stay there. If you decide you want to go to your classes you will put on a mask and go.”  

In a news release Tuesday, district officials said they are following local mask orders. A few weeks ago, Austin and Travis County officials went against Gov. Greg Abbott's executive order banning mask mandates and required that most people wear masks when entering public buildings and schools.

"The Trustees affirmed their commitment to follow laws currently in effect in our jurisdiction. At this time, the Travis County order based on Austin Public Health regulations is in effect for all of Eanes ISD. Those orders require mandating masks inside our facilities," the release said.

Even before the local orders, several school districts in the Austin area had started requiring masks in schools and buses as the delta variant fueled a new wave of COVID-19 cases across the country.

Parents and families gather near Westlake High School to protest mask mandates.
Gabriel C. Pérez
Families with students in the Eanes Independent School District gather near Westlake High School last week to demonstrate against mask mandates in schools.

According to Eanes ISD data, 91 students and staff members have tested positive for COVID-19 since classes started.

District officials said they are closely monitoring the ongoing legal fight between the state and several local jurisdictions over mask mandates.

In one of several lawsuits against the governor's orders, a district judge had granted San Antonio and Bexar County a temporary injunction to put the ban on mask mandates on hold while the case proceeded. But the Texas Supreme Court on Thursday sided with Abbott and agreed to let the ban stand. It is unclear how the decision will affect mask mandates in other cities and counties.

The disagreement over masks in schools has elevated tensions in the district. Some parents mounted a protest against the mask mandate last week. During an elementary school meeting between parents and teachers before the first day of classes, district officials said, one parent ripped a mask off a teacher’s face and another yelled at a different teacher to take off their mask because they couldn’t understand them.

Leonard said that’s on his mind as the new rule starts.

"What I'm really hoping is the parents don't put the kids and the teachers in the middle of this," he said. "This is a school rule, just like all the school rules we have, and typically parents will not tell kids to defy the school rule."

Claire McInerny is a former education reporter for KUT.
Dani Matias is a former producer and fill-in host for KUT's Morning Edition show.
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