DALLAS — Updated at 2:47 p.m. Tuesday with a written statement from the Texas Faculty Association.
Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order Tuesday that prohibits governmental entities in the state from requiring or mandating mask-wearing. According to the governor's order, this includes counties, cities, school districts, public health authorities, or government officials.
Public schools in Texas are allowed to follow current mask-wearing guidelines through June 4, the order states. But after that date, face masks are no longer required for students, teachers, parents, or other staff members on campus.
In a written statement issued Tuesday afternoon, Texas State Teachers Association President Ovidia Molina called Abbott's latest executive order "premature."
Molina said many students who will attend summer school this year haven't been vaccinated yet and won't complete their second dose of Pfizer well into the summer.
Texas lags the country with around 30% of its population fully vaccinated.
Only 3% of children 12-15 in the state have gotten one shot, and kids younger than 12 are not yet eligible to be vaccinated. The CDC says those who aren't vaccinated should still wear masks.
Dr. Diana Cervantes is an epidemiologist at UNTHSC. She believes schools should continue to distance, reduce class sizes and stay outside as much as possible.
“What are some additional things that are going to be put in place to really reduce that risk," She said. "It's definitely concerning, and it's something that parents need to think about.”
Places that are exempt from the governor's order include state-supported living centers, government-owned or operated hospitals, Texas Department of Criminal Justice facilities, Texas Juvenile Justice Department facilities, and county and municipal jails.
The governor's office said beginning May 21, local government officials who try to impose a mask mandate or anything that conflicts with Abbott's order can be subject to a fine of up to $1,000. Abbott previously blocked counties from fining people for not wearing masks earlier in the pandemic.
Rena Honea leads Alliance-AFT representing Dallas ISD employees. The district is one of many that will still be in school on June 4.
“It's pretty unconscionable on his part to make an executive order of this nature," she said. “For him to just come in and say if you continue doing this, you could be fined. You know, I think that it's egregious on his part.”
"The Lone Star State continues to defeat COVID-19 through the use of widely-available vaccines, antibody therapeutic drugs, and safe practices utilized by Texans in our communities," said Abbott.
Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eased its mask-wearing guidance for fully vaccinated people, allowing them to stop wearing masks outdoors in crowds and in most indoor settings.
However, over the weekend, the CDC recommended that all schools continue to use masks during the 2020-2021 academic school year. Currently, only children ages 12 and up have been cleared to receive Pfizer's COVID vaccine.
The CDC said that all K-12 schools should "implement and layer prevention strategies and should prioritize universal and correct use of masks and physical distancing."
"The governor should have waited until the CDC issues new mask guidelines for the 2021-22 school year before acting on masking requirements in public schools. We know some school districts already have ended their mask mandates, and we believe that also is ill-advised. The health and safety of our students, educators, and communities must remain our first priority as we attempt to emerge from this pandemic," Molina said in a written statement Tuesday.
Current guidance from the CDC recommends that masks are worn at all times by all students, teachers, and staff to prevent the spread of COVID-19. It says masks "should be required in all classroom and non-classroom settings" including hallways, restrooms, gyms, school buses, etc. The 3-feet distance rule for masked students should also remain in place, the CDC said.
"Texans, not government, should decide their best health practices, which is why masks will not be mandated by public school districts or government entities. We can continue to mitigate COVID-19 while defending Texans' liberty to choose whether or not they mask up," Abbott said in a news release.
Texas Faculty Association President Pat Heintzelman also released a statement, asking Abbott to reconsider his order ending mask requirements in government facilities, including universities.
"We urge him to allow colleges and universities to continue requiring masks, at least until a larger number of Texans are vaccinated against the coronavirus," the statement partially reads.
Below are some North Texas school districts' statements on the move:
While we know these times call for understanding as new information continues to guide us back to some sense of normalcy, Dallas ISD highly encourages wearing masks inside district buildings, as an added measure of safety for all. Understandably, today’s announcement gives flexibility to waver from that while inside our facilities.
That’s why we will continue following social distancing and sanitation protocols, and are committed to continue offering services like student and staff vaccinations, as resources become available.
Prior to the Governor's Order, Ennis ISD had already made the decision to remove all mask mandates at EISD facilities and events after May 21.
Fort Worth ISD
We are reading the executive order from Governor Abbott and our school boards meets on May 25. It is most likely the item will be discussed at that meeting
Lake Dallas ISD
At our school board meeting yesterday, our trustees voted to remove face covering requirements for anyone at our schools or facilities beginning May 19. This would include any students, staff and visitors.
We have already released information a while back that masks are optional in Prosper ISD beginning at 1:00pm on Friday, May 21st, 2021.
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