September 24, 2021

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Texas School District Adds Masks To Dress Code, Sidestepping Governor’s Ban

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A Texas school district is attempting to sidestep the governor’s ban on coronavirus mask mandates by requiring face coverings as part of its student dress code, as other schools across the state continue to defy and challenge the ban in court.

The Paris Independent School District in Lamar County, following an emergency meeting on Tuesday, has announced that masks will be required when school starts on Thursday, out of concern for “the health and safety of its students and employees.”

“The Texas Governor does not have the authority to usurp the Board of Trustees’ exclusive power and duty to govern and oversee the management of the public schools of the district,” the district said in a statement. “Nothing in the Governor’s Executive Order 38 states he has suspended Chapter 11 of the Texas Education Code, and therefore the Board has elected to amend its dress code consistent with its statutory authority.”

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Students at Stillman Middle School in Brownsville, Texas, are seen wearing face masks during their first day back to school on Aug. 17.

The Texas Education Code allows an independent school district to be governed by a board of trustees that will oversee the management of the district and ensure that “the superintendent implements and monitors plans, procedures, programs, and systems” as part of district operations.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) ― who himself tested positive for COVID-19 this Tuesday ― signed an executive order in July that prohibits governmental entities and officials from mandating face coverings, even as COVID cases, and related deaths, continue to rise in the state.

“Texans have mastered the safe practices that help to prevent and avoid the spread of COVID-19,” Abbott said in a statement late last month. “They have the individual right and responsibility to decide for themselves and their children whether they will wear masks, open their businesses, and engage in leisure activities.”

In the weeks since Abbott signed the executive order, his office has threatened to sue any school district, public university or local government official who attempts to defy his order, saying the edict “supersedes local rules and regulations.” 

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Children and parents protest Monday outside the Governor’s Mansion in Austin, Texas, to urge Gov. Greg Abbott (R) to drop his opposition to public school mask mandates.

The Texas Supreme Court ― which consists entirely of elected Republican justices ― sided with Abbott on Sunday, ordering mask mandates to be temporarily halted in Bexar and Dallas counties, two of the state’s largest counties, pending a court hearing. Officials in both counties have nonetheless said their mask rules will remain in place.

While Abbott claims that his state has “mastered” safe practices to reduce virus transmission, Texas has twice asked for federal assistance with the pandemic this month, and the White House said last week that Texas and Florida together account for almost 40% of new virus hospitalizations in the country. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has similarly imposed bans on mask mandates.

Texas’ Department of State Health Services requested five mortuary trailers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Aug. 4 to assist with the steady rise in coronavirus-related deaths since June. That’s when federal health officials began warning of the more contagious delta variant, which is now the predominant strain of the virus in the U.S, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Abbott last week also directed the DSHS to use staffing agencies to hire out-of-state medical personnel to support overwhelmed Texas medical workers.

Abbott’s office did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment on the Paris ISD’s dress code policy. 

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