Dallas schools to defy governor's order and require masks

A Dallas school district is defying Texas Gov. Greg AbbottGreg AbbottProposed Texas map adds two new congressional districts to Austin, Houston Texas surpasses 4 million COVID-19 cases threshold The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Democrats stare down 'hell' week MORE's (R) ban on mask mandates in schools and will require all staff, students and visitors to wear face coverings on district property beginning Tuesday.

The Dallas Independent School District (ISD) said the new measure comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Dallas County health officials have increased the local COVID-19 alert to level red, and reported that hospitalizations are increasing at the quickest pace since the beginning of the pandemic, including among children.

The district noted in a statement that while no vaccines are authorized for children under the age of 12, “school attendance is mandatory, and virtual learning is not an option at this time.”

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It said it will provide masks and sanitizer at buildings within the district and continue contact tracing in "keeping with the top priority of safeguarding the health and well-being of staff and students.”

The new policy comes after Abbott signed an executive order in May that prohibited “governmental entities in Texas,” including school districts, counties, cities, public health authorities and government officials, from imposing mask mandates.

The governor’s office said that individuals who try to violate the order by requiring masks be worn could be subject to a fine of up to $1,000.

The Dallas ISD addressed Abbott’s executive order in its statement, writing that the governor demand “does not limit the district’s rights as an employer and educational institution to establish reasonable and necessary safety rules for its staff and students.”

“Dallas ISD remains committed to the safety of our students and staff,” the district added.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantisRon DeSantisHillicon Valley — Presented by Ericsson — Instagram 'pausing' kid-targeted plan DeSantis orders Florida official to investigate Facebook for 'alleged election interference' America isn't first — it's far behind — and studies point to Republicans MORE (R) has signed a similar order prohibiting mask mandates in schools throughout the Sunshine State.

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Abbott’s office reacted to the school district’s move on Tuesday, telling The Hill in a statement that violating the governor’s executive order is “not the way” to protect Texas children and those most vulnerable.

The office also emphasized that “the time for mask mandates is over,” instead opting for “personal responsibility.”

“We are all working to protect Texas children and those most vulnerable among us, but violating the Governor’s executive orders—and violating parental rights—is not the way to do it. Governor Abbott has been clear that the time for mask mandates is over; now is the time for personal responsibility,” said Renae Eze, Abbott's press secretary.

She added that parents will now have the authority to decide if their children should wear a mask, before emphasizing the importance of getting vaccinated as “the best defense against this virus.”

“Parents and guardians have the right to decide whether their child will wear a mask or not, just as with any other decision in their child’s life. Governor Abbott has spent his entire time in office fighting for the rights and freedoms of all Texans, and our office continues working with the Office of the Attorney General to do just that. The best defense against this virus is the COVID vaccines, and we continue to strongly encourage all eligible Texans to get vaccinated,” Eze said.

The orders from Abbott and DeSantis have been met with opposition from public health experts and school administrators, both of whom are preparing for the fall semester when students plan on returning to classrooms for in-person instruction.

Those plans, however, may become more difficult to carry out as concerns are rising regarding the highly infectious delta variant, which has taken hold in the U.S. as the dominant strain of COVID-19.

Updated 3:29 p.m.