A school district in Texas amended its dress code to include face coverings as a way to skirt Gov. Greg Abbott’s ban on mask mandates.
The Paris Independent School District, which serves about 4,000 students in northeast Texas, announced Tuesday that masks will be required when schools reopen Thursday.
The move came on the same day that Abbott’s office announced that the Republican governor tested positive for COVID-19 despite being fully vaccinated.
“The Board of Trustees is concerned about the health and safety of its students,” district officials said in a statement. “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.”
Abbott “does not have the authority” to take over the board of trustees’ duty to govern public schools, according to the district officials who cited state education code.
“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 statutory authority,” the statement concluded.
The motion adding masks to the district’s dress code passed by a 5-1 vote at an emergency meeting Tuesday. The new requirement for both employees and pupils will be revisited at each monthly board meeting, the Paris News reported.
“For health reasons, masks are required for all employees and students to mitigate flu, cold, pandemic, and any other communicable diseases,” the district’s new dress code reads.
The lone dissenter, trustee Clifton Fendley, said he believed the district was exploiting a loophole to circumvent Abbott’s statewide ban on mask mandates, insisting the move was against the board’s oath of office.
Abbott, 63, imposed a ban on mask mandates in late July in Texas, where 112,004 new COVID-19 cases have been tallied in the past week, along with 647 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
About 46 percent of Texans are vaccinated while more than 54,000 have died statewide since the start of the pandemic, data shows.
Abbott also promised last week to take to court any school district, public university or local official who flouted his mask mandate ban.
“No governmental entity can require or mandate the wearing of masks,” Abbott said. “The path forward relies on personal responsibility — not government mandates.”
A message seeking comment from Abbott’s office Wednesday was not immediately returned.
The ongoing battle against the virus and the highly contagious Delta variant is stretching hospitals statewide to their collective breaking point, according to Dr. Amanda Green, director of the Paris-Lamar County Health District.
Green, who has two children who attend Paris High School, said one local hospital ran out of ventilators Monday, sending staff scrambling to find more.
But at least one parent seemingly agreed with Abbott, saying Tuesday that his child had “mental health consequences” while adhering to last year’s statewide mask mandate, the Paris News reported.
“Shame on you,” parent Joshua Vorron said while leaving a cafeteria after the vote.
The Texas Supreme Court, meanwhile, on Sunday halted mask requirements put in place by county leaders in Dallas and San Antonio as students start returning to school.
But officials in Dallas and Bexar counties said its mandates had not been struck down or a final decision had yet to be made, according to the Associated Press.
A judge granted San Antonio and Bexar County its request for a temporary injunction Monday. The ruling was expected to be appealed by the state, the Associated Press reported.