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Dallas Superintendent Says Masking Policy Was Most Immediate Way To Protect Students, Staff At Start Of School Year

A handful of students and parents in favor of masking in public schools demonstrated outside the Governor's Mansion in Austin on Aug. 16.
Gabriel C. Pérez/KUT
A handful of students and parents in favor of masking in public schools demonstrated outside the Governor's Mansion in Austin on Aug. 16.

Superintendent Michael Hinojosa argues the Texas Supreme Court decision that upheld a ban on mask mandates doesn’t apply to his district.

From Texas Standard:

The Dallas Independent School District is still requiring masks in schools despite the Texas Supreme Court's recent siding with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to ban mask mandates.

Superintendent Michael Hinojosa told Texas Standard that the court's decision was "very narrow," and until there's a specific order for school districts, he is going to keep it in place. He's concerned about student and staff health, as the delta variant of the coronavirus spreads widely through Texas.

"I decided to err on the side of safety, and because I'm getting conflicting information from different medical professionals, from elected officials, from appointed officials," Hinojosa said. "Ultimately, I'm responsible for the students in the Dallas ISD and the employees."

Hinojosa says the masking policy was the quickest way to protect people since fewer COVID-19 precautions are in place this school year. Unlike last year, virtual learning isn't widely available, nor is it funded by the state. And while Hinojosa is incentivizing eligible employees with $500 to get vaccinated, greater protection from increased vaccination rates take time to take effect.

"It was the only option that we could execute on immediately," he said.

Hinojosa contends that a statewide ban on mask mandates isn't effective, and that local entities like his district know best how to protect their communities from COVID-19.

"What happens in Dumas and Dalhart are a lot different than what happens in Dallas," Hinojosa said. "I felt that despite whatever trouble I might get in, it was important for me to make that decision and hold on to it as long as I can."

On Monday, the district's first day of school, Hinojosa says only a handful of the approximately 140,000 kids wouldn't or couldn't wear masks.

"So far, so good," he said. "People are understanding this is a big issue and they're cooperating with it."

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Caroline Covington is Texas Standard's digital producer/reporter. She joined the team full time after finishing her master's in journalism at the UT J-School. She specializes in mental health reporting, and has a growing interest in data visualization. Before Texas Standard, Caroline was a freelancer for public radio, digital news outlets and podcasts, and produced a podcast pilot for Audible. Prior to journalism, she wrote and edited for marketing teams in the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries. She has a bachelor's in biology from UC Santa Barbara and a master's in French Studies from NYU.
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