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“It is extremely difficult to maintain social distancing measures inside school buildings,”
Citing safety concerns and an inability to maintain social distancing in campus buildings, Pearsall and Dilley ISD trustees implemented a temporary indoor mask mandate this week.
A motion before the Cotulla ISD school board to issue a mask mandate failed last week.
All three districts are posting COVID-19 positive case information on their respective websites.
There are 19 confirmed cases of COVID-19 at PISD campuses as of Tuesday evening, August 31. DISD has 14 confirmed cases while CISD has 43 confirmed cases among students and staff as of 5 p.m. Tuesday evening.
Pearsall’s mandate took effect Monday, August 30 following a meeting on Wednesday, August 25 where trustees voted on the measure following a closed session briefing with legal counsel.
“Pearsall ISD and the school board of trustees prioritize the safety and well-being of the students and school employees,” PISD Superintendent Dr. Nobert Rodriguez said in a notice issued to parents late last week. “Therefore, in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19 within our district facilities, PISD will follow CDC guidelines and implement a temporary indoor face mask-wearing mandate effective Monday, August 30.
“This requirement will be reviewed by the school board of trustees on a monthly basis.
“All students and staff at PISD must wear a face mask while inside school facilities and buses.”
Citing a full return to classroom learning and inability to provide proper social distancing measures at campuses, Dr. Rodriguez said the health measures were implemented in an effort to prioritize the health and well being of students and staff.
“Our students are back at full capacity and it is extremely difficult to maintain social distancing measures inside school buildings,” he said. “It is our goal to keep the health, safety, and well-being of our students and staff as our number one priority. Thank you for your understanding and concern for the safety and well-being of the students and each other.”
DISD’s mandate went into effect on Wednesday, September 1 following the board’s decision to issue the mandate following a meeting on Monday, August 30.
“Given the increasing number of Covid-19 cases and deaths in our community, state, country and the world, our board authorized the requirement of mandatory mask wearing for all individuals on district property effective Wednesday, September 1,” DISD Superintendent Dr. Emilio Castro said. “We will continue to monitor this fourth Covid-19 surge and will meet with the board during our December 2021 board meeting to reassess the current needs regarding this mask mandate.
“We do realize there are many differing feelings and thoughts regarding mask mandates, and sincerely appreciate your care for one another and the inconvenience of wearing a mask so that the safety of our children, staff and conununity health can be protected to the greatest extent our efforts can provide. If even one life is saved by our collective efforts, it would have indeed been worth it.”
Cotulla trustees’ decision not to issue a mask mandate was met with some pushback on the district’s social media page.
“At this time, Cotulla ISD will not enforce a mask mandate,” CISD Superintendent Ruben Cervantes said in a statement. “[We] will continue to monitor the COVID-19 positive case activity within our district.
“The school board will revisit this topic and the continuation of extra-curricular activities, if needed, throughout the year. In the meantime, we ask that you continue to follow the guidelines set forth by the CDC.
“Cotulla ISD strongly supports the CDC recommendation of universal indoor masking for all students, teachers, staff and visitors to all K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status,” he said. “We ask that you please keep your children home if they are experiencing any COVID-19 related symptoms. Please help us by doing your part in keeping our children and staff safe during this time.”
Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued an Executive Order in May prohibiting governmental entities and officials from mandating face coverings or restricting activities in response to the COVID-19 disaster.
Battles over the legality of the order have since ensued. On Friday, August 27, a Texas judge issued a temporary injunction blocking the ban on mask mandates in an order that affects 19 school districts in the state.
Travis County Judge Catherine Mauzy’s order found that the school districts that sued to block the ban made “a sufficient showing” that Abbott’s action is “unlawful…violates the Texas Constitution and would cause irreparable harm.”
School districts that sued to block Abbott’s ban include the schools of Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Fort Worth and Houston.
The Texas Supreme Court temporarily blocked a mask mandate in San Antonio schools on Thursday, August 26.
On Monday morning the US Education Department announced that it’s investigating five states that have banned mask requirements in schools, saying the policies could amount to discrimination against students with disabilities or health conditions.
The department’s Office for Civil Rights sent letters to education chiefs in Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Utah, states that have barred schools from requiring masks among all students and staff. The department says the move could prevent some students from safely attending school.
“It’s simply unacceptable that state leaders are putting politics over the health and education of the students they took an oath to serve,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said. “The department will fight to protect every student’s right to access in-person learning safely.”
The states’ policies conflict with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommends universal mask wearing for students and teachers in the classroom.
Sanctions including a loss of federal education funding could be levied against those states if the investigations determine that the state mask bans have discriminated against students with disabilities.
The department has not opened investigations in other states where mask bans have been overturned by courts or are not being enforced, including in Florida, Texas, Arkansas and Arizona but said it is monitoring those situations and will take action, if needed.
The investigations aim to determine whether state mask bans amount to a violation of students’ right to a free, public education. The department is raising concerns that, in areas with high COVID-19 transmissions, the bans could discriminate against students who are at heightened risk for severe illness.
“Through legal guidance, the PISD School Board of Trustees took action on requiring students, staff, and visitors to wear a face mask at all indoor facilities and school buses,” PISD Superintendent Dr. Rodriguez said of the district’s mandate. “Currently, there is a statewide restraining order against Governor Greg Abbott’s GA-38 mandate.”
The Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University reported that there were 1,351 deaths statewide last week, up 44 percent from the previous week. On a more positive note, it also reported that the number of new cases in Texas dropped 14 percent last week compared to the previous week, to 107,489.
The Texas Department of State Health Services reported there are 13,735 COVID-19 patients in hospitals, an increase of six percent from the previous week. The number of hospitalizations is also approaching the all-time high of 14,218 reached in mid-January.
Many hospitals statewide have also reported that all intensive-care unit beds are filled. The DSHS said that only 325 ICU beds are available in Texas as of Sunday, August 29. People under the age of 50 are being admitted to hospitals with COVID-19 in the largest numbers since the pandemic began in early 2020.
The DSHS also said that the pace of vaccinations has increased, with an average of more than 80,000 vaccine doses reported daily during the past month. Nearly 47 percent of the state’s population has been vaccinated, a total of 13.6 million Texans.