Abbott Prohibits Local Governments, School Districts From Requiring Masks

Gov. Greg Abbott Tuesday issued an executive order prohibiting governmental entities in Texas — including counties, cities, school districts, public health authorities, or government officials — from requiring or mandating mask wearing. 

Public schools can continue their current mask-wearing guidelines through June 4 under the order.

Other local governments and officials can keep their mask requirements until Friday or face a fine of up to $1,000. Only state-supported living centers, government-owned or operated hospitals, and state, county, or municipal jails are exempt from the executive order. 

“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. “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.”

Most school districts, including Highland Park ISD, can continue with their mask policy for the remainder of the school year as most dismiss for the summer well before the June 4 deadline. 

Highland Park ISD announced last week that masks would be optional next school year.

(Read: Highland Park ISD makes masks optional next year.)

“Obviously, Highland Park has every intention to comply (with the order),” HPISD board president Tom Sharpe said at Tuesday’s board meeting. “We will think through what plans that might alter that we had previously, kind of, tentatively put in place for summer school.”

Dallas ISD opted to shift its school year last summer, moving from a mid-August start date to a September start date to better position it for possible needs to go all virtual beyond the first four weeks of school. The shift means that the school year doesn’t end until June 18, leaving the district with 10 school days that would be past Abbott’s deadline.

“Providing safe and healthy school communities is our most important work each day,” the district said in a statement Tuesday. “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,” the statement continued. “Masks will be required in schools and district facilities until the governor’s order goes into effect June 5.”

Abbott’s order comes shortly the Centers for Disease Control changed their recommendations last week that fully vaccinated people don’t need to wear a mask or physically distance in many settings, except healthcare settings, public transportation, and where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins called Abbott’s order “unfortunate.”

“This is particularly unfortunate in that the governor’s order deviates from CDC recommendations that unvaccinated individuals continue to mask in indoor public settings. Private businesses are free to set reasonable guidelines to keep their employees and customers safe, but local government and school districts, under the governor’s order, are not,” Jenkins said. 

In other news: 

  • Dallas County Monday reported a two-day total of 407 more COVID-19 cases and an additional nine deaths, and Tuesday reported 72 additional positive cases and an additional 10 deaths. As of Tuesday, a total of 81 cases of ‘variants of concern’ including 69 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant first identified in the U.K., seven cases of the B.1.429 first identified in California, two cases of the B.1.526 variant first identified in New York, two cases of the P.1 variant and one case of the P.2 variant identified in Brazil. 
  • Abbott Monday announced that the state will opt out of further federal unemployment compensation related to the COVID-19 pandemic, effective June 26. This includes the $300 weekly unemployment supplement from the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program.
  • Mayor Eric Johnson on Tuesday announced a new effort to provide assistance to the city of Jaipur as India battles a deadly surge in COVID-19 cases. So far, the relief effort has raised more than $1 million worth of personal protective equipment, including masks and gloves. The Dallas Foundation is accepting donations at DallasFoundation.org/IndiaCovidRelief

Rachel Snyder

Rachel Snyder, deputy editor at People Newspapers, joined the staff in 2019, returning to her native Dallas-Fort Worth after starting her career at community newspapers in Oklahoma. One of her stories won first place in its category in the Oklahoma Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest in 2018. She’s a fan of puns and community journalism, not necessarily in that order. You can reach her at rachel.snyder@peoplenewspapers.com

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