Texas school officials think they've found dress code loophole in Abbott ban

The board of trustees for a school district in Texas are amending their dress code for students to include masks in a bid to get around Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) executive order banning mask mandates in schools.

The Paris Independent School District (PISD) announced the new changes to the dress code in a press release on Tuesday, weeks after Abbott issued an executive order banning schools from requiring face masks. 

“The Board of Trustees is concerned about the health and safety of its students and employees. The Board believes the dress code can be used to mitigate communicable health issues, and therefore has amended the PISD dress code to protect our students and employees,” the school district said in the release.

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The district went on to say that Abbott lacks the authority “to usurp” the board’s “exclusive power and duty to govern and oversee the management of the public schools of the district.”

“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,” the district added.

In a statement on Wednesday afternoon, a spokesperson for Abbott’s office pushed back on the notion that the recent move by the school district could be a loophole.

Abbott press secretary Renae Eze said “no governmental entity or school district can require or mandate the wearing of masks” under the governor's directive.

“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,” Eze stated. “The best defense against this virus is the COVID vaccines, and we continue to strongly encourage all eligible Texans to get vaccinated.”

“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,” Eze also said.

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“The best defense against this virus is the COVID vaccines, and we continue to strongly encourage all eligible Texans to get vaccinated,” she added.

The move comes after another school district in Texas said recently that it will keep its mask mandate for students in place despite a recent ruling from the state’s high court upholding Abbott’s ban.

School districts in Republican-led states including Florida, Oklahoma and Arizona have implemented similar polices in recent weeks, defying orders banning such measures by state leaders as the delta variant has fueled a surge in coronavirus cases in different parts of the nation. 

Health officials have urged the public to return to wearing masks in indoor spaces, even if the individual is vaccinated, to curb the rising number of infections, including “breakthrough cases” in fully vaccinated people.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says coronavirus vaccines remain effective in staving off infections and bringing the current year-plus pandemic "under control.” 

However, the agency notes on its website that no vaccine is 100 percent effective in preventing illness and acknowledges there will be a small percentage of fully vaccinated people who will contract the virus. 

Abbott, who is fully vaccinated, was revealed by his office to be one of those cases on Tuesday after testing positive for COVID-19.

--Updated on August 19 at 8:34 a.m.