Of more than 1,200 school districts across Texas, fewer than 100 require masks to help curb the spread of COVID-19. In North Texas, two districts have taken very different roads: one is openly defying Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order against such mandates, while another embracing it.
A little more than a month ago, as many North Texas schools were about to start in-person classes, Dallas ISD superintendent Michael Hinojosa said he would continue requiring masks for everyone in a school district building, despite the governor’s order against such a mandate. “…to keep students safe, to keep parents safe, to keep families safe, and most importantly our teachers who are on those front lines.”
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has since sued several school districts that also defied the governor, but not Dallas ISD. Unless there’s a legal change, Hinojosa says he won’t change either.
“If we lose we lose, but until we’re told that we lost, we’re going to keep moving forward,” he said.
Moving forward is what Allen ISD sees itself doing, says spokesperson David Hicks. Like most districts across Texas, Allen follows the governor’s executive order about masks.
“Masks are optional,” Hicks said. “Social distancing is encouraged where feasible. In some classrooms, we try to spread them out as much as we can. In the lunchrooms where, if there’s a parent request to have their student moved where they can have a little more room, we’re certainly willing to accommodate those requests.”
Hicks reiterates the district just is not willing to force masks. Stephen Love, though, wishes it would. He runs the DFW Hospital Council.
“The National Academy for Pediatrics says all children attending in-person school, and the teachers and people that come in contact with the children, should wear masks,” Love said. “It’s not complicated. It’s very simple. Go to school and every person should wear a mask. That’s what the people who are experts on public health and the safety of our children say.”
Love says that directive is especially important for those under 12 – children too young for a vaccine. In their case, some districts have offered virtual school, especially since the legislature approved funding it.
But not in Allen ISD, says district spokesperson Hicks.
“That decision was made because of the belief that a student is best served in a classroom with a trained, professional teacher in front of them,” he said. “And so, [we] certainly understand the new law that will be going into effect soon regarding virtual education funding, but Allen ISD is committed to in-person learning.”
That hard stand against online school – and mandating masks – have some Allen parents considering a withdrawal from the district. Other parents joined a recent federal lawsuit against Allen ISD because the district won’t require masks.There are additional COVID safety steps Allen could take but won’t. For example, it doesn’t contact trace, or follow quarantine protocols. Nor do Allen schools offer rapid COVID testing for students and staff at every campus. Dallas ISD is doing all those things. However, thanks to recent federal funding, Allen will now pay for testing any student or teacher who wants the COVID test.