Abbott prohibits school districts and local governments from imposing or enforcing mask requirements

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Updated continuously on May 18, 4:45 p.m.

There will be no mask debate in Texas school districts for the upcoming school year.

On Tuesday, Governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order preventing almost every government agency in the state – including school districts and public universities – from requiring or mandating masks. Only state-supported homes, state hospitals and state, county and city prisons and prisons are exempt from the order.

“Texans, not the government, should decide their best health practices, which is why masks are not required by public school districts or government agencies,” Abbott said in a statement. “We can continue to contain COVID-19 while defending Texans’ freedom to choose whether to mask or not.”

Local governments and officials can only hold mask orders until Friday or face a fine of up to $ 1,000.

The new regulation does not prevent companies from continuing their own mask obligations for employees or customers.

in the an interview with CNBC Tuesday afternoonAbbott said his order was merely a “confirmation” of an earlier March 2 executive order that removed a nationwide mask mandate and lifted corporate occupancy restrictions.

Several cities, including Dallas and Fort Worth, have set their own mask guidelines for city buildings following Abbott’s March order. Austin and Travis County continued to require masks in public spaces, a decision challenged by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. In late March, a district court judge denied Paxton’s motion for an injunction on Austin’s masking rules.

“[Local governments] did so contrary to my original order, ”Abbott told CNBC. “So we not only reaffirmed and made this clear, but in my order today we have also imposed penalties on any local government or government official who violates my implementing ordinance.”

Dallas County commissioners were expected to discuss updating their mask rules on Tuesday. However, District Judge Clay Jenkins stopped the conversation after the executive’s order on Tuesday. After saying he disagreed with the governor’s decision, Jenkins directed the county staff to update all policies to comply with Abbott’s order.

School districts can keep their current guidelines until June 4th. At this point, Abbott’s order requires the Texas Education Agency to revise its current policy to include “no student, teacher, parent, or other employee or visitor wearing face-covering.”

Almost 12 million Texans have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, and 41.7% of the state’s 16-year-old and older population are fully vaccinated.

But the bulk of the state’s 5 million K-12 students are not, as many cannot get vaccines. Last week, federal regulators issued emergency clearance to allow people 12 and older to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are still restricted to those aged 18 and over.

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently radically changed their recommendations for vaccinated people, the agency made it clear that schools should adhere to the same social distancing and masking requirements for at least the 2020-21 school year until their guidelines could be established covered.

“We have to update our school management, our childcare, our camp management, our travel guide,” said CDC director Rochelle Walensky told Fox News‘Chris Wallace on Sunday. “We have a lot to do that we have to do. We are now actively working on this and are also actively trying to contact the community. “

Abbott’s order goes against the wishes of the CDC, as several districts – including Dallas ISD – will not end their current school year until the June 4 deadline has expired.

Even so, many counties in the Dallas-Fort Worth area had already established guidelines that made wearing masks optional for the summer and the upcoming school year. Last week, Frisco ISD announced that from June 1st, the beginning of the summer school, there will no longer be a mask requirement for students and employees. The Grapevine-Colleyville and Carroll ISDs set similar deadlines for June 1st, while Allen will step down on July 1st.

Dallas ISD superintendent Michael Hinojosa said he “fundamentally disagrees with the decision,” but would obey Abbott’s order.

“We would have loved to be able to keep our protocols until the end of our school year,” said Hinojosa. “But that obviously won’t happen. We will ask people to wear masks by June 4th, and after that we will ask people to wear a mask. But we will not be able to enforce it. “

Some teacher groups in the state called Abbott’s decision “premature”.

“The governor should have waited for the CDC to issue new mask guidelines for the 2021-22 school year before completing masking requirements for public schools,” said Ovidia Molina, president of the Texas State Teachers Association. “We know that some school districts have already ended their mask requirement, and we believe that too is bad advice. The health and safety of our students, educators and communities must remain our top priority as we attempt to overcome this pandemic. “

Pat Heintzelman, president of the Texas Faculty Association, urged Abbott to reconsider ending masking requirements until large numbers of Texans are vaccinated.

The university’s faculty and staff have no way of knowing who is vaccinated and who is not, Heintzelman said in a statement. The health and safety of each employee’s family is important and something the governor should prioritize, she said.

“We have to be careful as this pandemic takes its course,” said Heintzelman.

Abbott’s new appointment comes 10 weeks after he canceled his own nationwide mask mandate and made that decision without consulting much, if any, of his four top medical advisors.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott addresses a restaurant in Lubbock on Tuesday, March 2, 2021.  To mark the one year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic, Abbott announced the reopening of the state of Texas to all companies.  (Video via KXAS Dallas)

President Joe Biden criticized the move, saying Abbott was sticking to “Neanderthal thinking” rather than following the advice of the country’s health authorities. These experts warned that the Texas reopening could lead to a resurgence of COVID-19 cases in the state, a prediction that did not materialize.

“The governors don’t have a lot of confidence in the CDC,” Abbott told CNBC. “All of the directions we received throughout the pandemic have been disproved, apparently on the same day or several days after that. There were completely different messages from the CDC under the two presidents. “

As the number of confirmed and probable cases in Texas approaches 3 million – with a death toll of 49,941 as of Tuesday – new infections, hospital admissions and deaths have steadily declined since early March. During his CNBC interview, Abbott announced that the state had reported no COVID-19 deaths as well as a host of other encouraging metrics on Sunday.

“Well, I’ve proven the Neanderthals won,” he said.

Staff authors Nic Garcia and Brayden Garcia contributed to this report.

The DMN Education Lab deepens reporting and discussion on pressing educational issues that are critical to the future of North Texas.

The DMN Education Lab is a community-funded journalism initiative with support from The Beck Group, Bobby and Lottye Lyle, Communities Foundation of Texas, The Dallas Foundation, Dallas Regional Chamber, Deedie Rose, The Meadows Foundation, Solutions Journalism Network, Southern Methodist University and Todd A. Williams Family Foundation. The Dallas Morning News retains full editorial control over the Education Lab’s journalism.



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