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Mask mandate was the right decision to keep students safe, Austin ISD superintendent says

AISD SuperintendentStephanie Elizalde reviews notes on the first day of school at the newly constructed Eastside Memorial High School in East Austin.
Jordan Vonderhaar
for KUT
AISD Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde reviews notes on the first day of school at Eastside Memorial High School in August.

State leaders made it hard to keep students safe this school year, Austin ISD Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde said Tuesday during her state of the district address.

Elizalde said she wasn't expecting Gov. Greg Abbott or Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath to mandate masks, but she was "simply having faith" that they would recognize local control.

Back in August, Elizalde was the first superintendent in Central Texas to defy the governor and mandate masks for students and staff this school year. Abbott had issued an executive order in May that said government institutions, including schools, could not require masks.

Elizalde credits the mask mandate, in part, for the district being able to keep COVID cases low throughout the semester.

She thanked AISD families and staff for complying with the mandate, even if they didn't support it.

“I think the uniqueness of the community of the Austin Independent School District is the ability to wade through disagreements and then come together to support something that you may not be in agreement with but you recognize is in the best interest of the entire organization,” she said.

Elizalde also said she recognized that while virtual learning was necessary during the worst of the pandemic, it's not the best option for some students. She said the district would use it in some situations going forward.

Claire McInerny is a former education reporter for KUT.
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