Another Texas school district adds masks to dress code

Another school district in Texas amended its dress code to include masks shortly before students returned to school this week, despite Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) executive order banning mask mandates in schools. 

The Texas City Independent School District (TCISD) made changes to the dress code the day before students were set to resume classes in the area this week, according to a local ABC affiliate. The move comes weeks after Abbott issued an executive order banning schools from requiring face masks.

The district has not described its recent decision as a mandate, but as an added change to the existing dress code, the outlet reports.

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The change follows a previous decision made by the board of trustees at the Paris Independent School District (PISD) to similarly amend its dress code to include masks.

In its announcement of the changes earlier this week, the district said Abbott lacked the authority “to usurp” the board’s “exclusive power and duty to govern and oversee the management of the public schools of the district.” 

To back its point, the board added that it found no language in the governor’s executive order stating that Abbott suspended Chapter 11 of the Texas Education Code.

That particular section covers a statute dictating that the board of trustees of an independent school district can adopt rules requiring students to wear school uniforms if it “determines that the requirement would improve the learning environment at the school.”

“Therefore,” PISD added in its announcement, “the Board has elected to amend its dress code consistent with its statutory authority.”

Officials at both school districts have pointed to health and safety concerns of the students and staff as reason to make the changes to the dress code, as the fast-spreading delta variant has fueled a surge of coronavirus cases in parts of the nation.

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The moves by the school districts have been seen by some as a potential avenue to get around Abbott’s orders. However, in a statement responding to such measures, the governor’s office panned the dress code changes as nothing of the sort.

“There is no loophole. While a school district cannot mandate or prohibit masks, parents and guardians have the right to decide whether their child will wear a mask or not,” Abbott press secretary Renae Eze told The Hill on Wednesday afternoon.

Eze added that while school and government leaders are all “working to protect Texas children and those most vulnerable among us,” violating Abbott’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,” Eze also said. 

According to local media, TCISD sent a student home on Wednesday for refusing to put on a mask.

“I don't like to wear a mask. They were handing out masks and I said ‘No, thank you,’” eight-grader John Rataino told local reporters.

According to the local ABC station, John’s mother, Rachel Rataino, praised her son’s decision.

“I think it should be up to the individual to choose whether to wear a mask. Kids already have so many things forced upon them through the school district,” she told the station.

Protesters have also shown up in the district, including one person who criticized masks as “child abuse,” at its headquarters on Wednesday.