How LISD is influenced by Texas’ ever-changing mask mandates

With Texas’ ever-changing mask mandate regulations, it may be difficult to know what can be enforced and how citizens will be impacted on a daily basis. Here is a timeline of the state’s court rulings on masks, if they can be mandated and how the LISD community is influenced.

 

An overview of the state’s mask mandates

Following the nationwide lockdown, the Texas Educational Agency (TEA) released its 2020-2021 School Reopening Guidance Summary on July 21, 2020. This guide stated that schools must comply with the governor’s executive order in regards to wearing face masks, which at the time were required for all citizens, with a few exceptions. 

On March 2, 2021, Gov. Greg Abbott ordered Executive Order No. GA-34, enabling Texas businesses to reopen with no restrictions in regards to COVID-19. Businesses were allowed to operate at full capacity with no social distancing or mask requirements. Under this order, public schools were required to follow the minimum health restrictions outlined by the TEA and private schools were encouraged to do the same. The TEA also updated its Public Health Guidance on March 2, permitting school districts to determine whether masks should be required or optional. 

Shortly after, on May 18, 2021, Abbott issued Executive Order No. GA-36, which prohibited governmental entities—including school districts—from requiring face masks. In addition to Abbott’s ban on mask mandates, he issued Executive Order No. GA-38 on July 29, 2021, prohibiting government entities from mandating vaccines. Executive Order No. GA-38 also effectively voids all of Abbott’s previous executive orders related to the pandemic—with a few exceptions—severely limiting the state’s current jurisdiction over masks and vaccines. 

It didn’t take long for Abbott to face legal repercussions for issuing Executive Order No. GA-38, as a federal lawsuit was filed by Disability Rights Texas. Although the Texas Supreme Court sided with Abbott, the court is currently allowing schools to implement mask mandates until a final ruling is issued. 

Subsequent to the lawsuit, the TEA updated its Public Health Guidance again, in accordance with the order. The guidance document states that “mask provisions of GA-38 are not being enforced as the result of ongoing litigation.” 

The uncertainty surrounding schools’ abilities to enforce mask requirements has prevented school districts from making official calls on asking students and staff to wear masks. 

 

How this impacts LISD

LISD is one of the school districts that has not implemented any mask requirement following the uncertainty of Executive Order No. GA-38. Although the district began the school year with masks as strictly optional, the mask policy was updated on Aug. 25, requesting that all students and staff wear masks. 

“[The updated mask policy] has neither increased or decreased the amount of students wearing masks,” AP Human Geography teacher Kelley Ferguson said. “Any form of communication is good, it’s not harmful, but I don’t think [requesting masks has] actually had an impact.”

In addition to the change in wording regarding the mask policy, LISD began notifying students’ families when a positive, lab-confirmed, case was reported on their campus; this was implemented on Aug. 30.

“LISD will continue to monitor the legal requirements and work within those boundaries to implement mitigation strategies,” LISD Board of Trustees member Jenny Proznik said. “I know the situation can change very quickly, and LISD will be ready to adjust our plans accordingly.”

Beside LISD’s contact tracing and amendment in mask policy, the district has also reimplemented its COVID Case Tracker. As of last week, LISD had a total of 399 reported lab-confirmed new cases since the beginning of the school year.

“My biggest fear with [COVID] is having another shut down,” senior Michelle Waida said. “I do wish the school was a little [more] strict with certain protocols, [but] I do think that we’re in a better place than we were last year [in terms of returning to ‘normal’].”

Even after Abbott’s executive order, some school districts throughout Texas have implemented mask requirements. This includes Houston, Austin and Dallas independent school districts, and more. School districts, such as Paris ISD, found unique ways to enforce masks prior to the Texas Supreme Court enabling districts to implement mandates for the time being. While some districts have taken advantage of Abbott’s current undecided court ruling, there are now greater discrepancies regarding masks and face coverings across the state. 

“[Inconsistent statewide mask regulations] are frustrating from a teacher standpoint because we like to set standards and rules from day one so that students don’t get confused by changing rules,” Ferguson said. “From that perspective, it’s frustrating to not have a set norm so that students know what’s expected of them and they can get used to school.”

 Although it is technically within the district’s rights to implement a mandate, the court has not ruled against Abbott, leading some to follow Abbott’s order as the current standing law. If Abbott’s executive order is supported by the courts, schools that have implemented a mask requirement will be forced to get rid of them, and possible legal disciplinary actions could be taken. As of May 18, Abbott has threatened to fine government officials who impose a mask mandate. 

“Until the Texas Supreme Court declares otherwise or the state legislature passes legislation limiting the power of the governor and restoring local control, Abbott’s executive order is still the law of Texas,” Proznik said. “As a Trustee, I must follow the law on behalf of our school district as a public agency of the state.” 

Masks will likely continue to be a topic of controversy, regardless of whether or not Abbott’s order is implemented. As new variants of COVID-19 arise, it is difficult to determine what kinds of health guidelines will be needed to limit the spread within the district.

“I don’t think [wearing a mask] has anything to do with taking away a person’s rights,” Waida said. “It’s [precautionary] and [a part] of procedures. I’m going to wear it to be safe, and I don’t think there’s an issue with that.”