Speed Reads

Mask politics

Dallas and Austin public schools will require masks in defiance of governor's directive. Houston is probably next.

The superintendents of the Dallas Independent School District and Austin Independent School District announced Monday that staff, students, and visitors at Dallas and Austin public schools will be required to wear face masks, effective this week. The Houston Independent School District board will vote on a mask requirement later this week. Gov. Greg Abbott (R) issued an executive order in July barring public schools and other government entities from mandating masks. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and American Academy of Pediatrics have advised that all people in K-12 schools wear masks indoors. Texas is one of a half-dozen states that have ordered schools to disregard that advice, even as COVID-19's Delta variant has sent case numbers and hospitalizations rising sharply. The Delta variant also appears to spread more easily to children. Children under 12 aren't yet eligible for COVID-19 vaccines.

"With numbers getting significantly worse this decision is urgent, and an important one when it comes to protecting our students, teachers, staff, and their families," Dallas schools Superintendent Michael Hinojosa said Monday. The local teacher's union thanked Hinojosa "for taking bold action and listening to medical advisers and science about what is happening."

Austin schools Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde announced AISD's mask requirement at a school board meeting Monday night. "I am responsible for the safety, health, and welfare of each and every one of our students and our staff," she said. "If I err, I must err on the side of ensuring that we've been overly cautious, not that we have fallen short."

Abbott has argued that COVID-19 safety is the responsibility of individuals and parents, not the state, and he urged the state legislature to enshrine his mask mandate ban in law. Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins asked a state judge late Monday to rule Abbott's ban an unenforceable excess of the governor's authority. "School districts and government closest to the people should make decisions on how best to keep students and others safe," Jenkins said.

Abbott insisted Monday evening that Texas "is taking action to combat the recent rise in COVID-19 cases," and he asked hospitals to voluntarily postpone most elective surgeries and said the state will import nurses to help understaffed and overwhelmed hospitals. "Texans can help bolster our efforts by getting vaccinated against COVID-19," he added. "The COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective, and it is our best defense against the virus."