On Monday, the Austin Independent School District joined Dallas, and likely, Houston ISD in defying Gov. Greg Abbott’s order banning local mask mandates. All individuals on school campuses will be required to wear masks.
AISD Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde told Texas Standard the district decided to require masks because the Centers for Disease Control, the American Academy of Pediatrics and Austin Public Health all recommend that school-aged children, who cannot be vaccinated for COVID-19 because they are under 12 years of age, should wear masks to keep them and others protected from the virus. The city of Austin and Travis County are currently at stage 5, the highest level on the COVID-19 risk scale. Elizalde says the district’s decision was made in consultation with public health officials, other superintendents and AISD attorneys.
“It has never been our intent, certainly not mine, to defy a governor’s order,” she said. “I took that very seriously into consideration. This was about the context of our current conditions. I cannot just stand by and simply say, ‘well, I can’t do mask mandates because the governor’s order prohibits me from doing so.'”
She said the district would do what science and data led them to do, and that she would “deal with some of the consequences that come from that decision.”
“Everyone has to make the decision, ultimately, I think, really returning to local control,” Elizalde said. “…This is not about being right, it’s about doing right.”
Elizalde said parents have both expressed support and opposition to a mask mandate, speaking at public meetings last month and on Monday.
“This is not a decision about, let’s see, what does the majority want,” she said.
State leaders have not contacted AISD about its decision, Elizalde said. Abbott’s executive order specifies a $1,000 fine for entities that require masks in violation of the order.