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AISD requires masks for all, despite Abbott’s order

Tuesday, August 10, 2021 by Elizabeth Pagano

Facing spiking Covid cases and a fast-approaching fall semester, the Austin Independent School District has made the decision to require face masks in defiance of an executive order issued by Gov. Greg Abbott. 

“I am responsible for the safety, the heath and welfare, of each and every one of our students and our staff,” Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde said, at a special called meeting of the AISD Board of Trustees yesterday evening. “If I err, I must err on the side of ensuring that we have been overly cautious, not that we have fallen short.”

Effective Wednesday, AISD will require masking of everyone on all district property. The new rule goes into effect just before the start of classes on Aug. 17. 

“When we mask up, we save others,” Elizalde said, asking everyone to put students and staff first to ensure all are safe. 

In addition to requiring masks on campus, Elizalde said the district would continue its established Covid protocols, including contact tracing, notifications of Covid exposure, air purification, rapid testing on campus, and using outdoor spaces as much as possible. AISD has also expanded virtual learning options for students in grades K-6 who cannot yet be vaccinated.  

The meeting opened with a litany of pleas to mandate masks during the upcoming school year. Most callers underlined their commitment to supporting the board if it made the choice to vote in opposition to state rules. 

AISD is not alone in its rebellion; earlier Monday Dallas ISD announced it will require masking, despite the order. Houston ISD is expected to vote on the issue later this week. 

Though the governor’s order includes a $1,000 fine for failing to comply, it’s not clear what consequences the school district could face.

Prior to the meeting, a group of parents, teachers and students held a press conference asking AISD trustees to implement a mask mandate. 

Dr. Jyoti Kapur, a pediatrician and AISD parent, told the crowd that close to 700 area physicians had signed a petition asking for a mask mandate in all school districts.

“The Delta variant is not like the previous variants of Covid, and we know that. We are losing children, and we feel, as a community of pediatricians, that losing even one child to this preventable cause is one too many,” Kapur said. “Masks are the single most effective way of preventing transmission in the unvaccinated.”

Mike Siegel, who is a parent of two AISD students and a former city attorney, also spoke in favor of the mask mandate at the morning press conference. He said the coalition he helped found, Safe Schools for All, was considering all options, “including going to court.”

At least one suit has been filed against Abbott over his executive order. The Texas Tribune reported that the nonprofit Southern Center for Child Advocacy filed suit Sunday night.

“The governor has certainly exceeded his authority under the Disaster Act, and by threatening the lives of our children, he’s violating many constitutional rights,” Siegel said. “Our basic rights are under attack …. The right to a free public education is fundamental to this country, it’s fundamental to democracy, but that right to education is meaningless if our children can’t have safe schools.”

“We will be there to support (the school board), whether that means politically, legally, financially. Because we do know that there are a lot of threats out there: a governor, an attorney general, and others who are talking about fines, and withholding money and imposing sanctions against our district,” Siegel said. “This is a matter of life or death for our children, for our school workers and for the broader community.”

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