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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has COVID-19, and he’s also contending with a growing number of angry school boards that are openly challenging his ban on mask mandates, as the delta variant overwhelms the state’s hospitals.
On Tuesday night alone, the boards of at least three independent school districts (ISDs), all in different parts of the state, voted to require students to wear masks at school: The El Paso Independent School District, Texas City ISD, and the Paris ISD. The moves by the school boards are just the latest by local officials as they try to fight off the delta surge, despite the Texas governor’s executive order in May barring local governments from issuing mask requirements.
In Paris, the school board found a unique loophole it thinks will help it get around Abbott’s order: Making masks part of the student and employee dress code. “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,” the school board said in a statement following Tuesday’s meeting.
Texas has been one of states hit hardest by the delta variant, with nearly 12,000 people currently hospitalized with COVID-19 complications there and caseloads approaching that of the winter surge, before vaccines were widely available. Less than half of the state’s residents are fully vaccinated; Paris is in Lamar County, where fewer than 30 percent of people are vaccinated.
The Biden administration has also gotten involved on behalf of school districts that are pushing back against the mandate bans in Texas and Florida. After Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis threatened to withhold the paychecks of school officials who require masks, the White House said that relief funds can be used to pay them.
Several Texas school boards filed a lawsuit against Abbott last week seeking to regain authority to issue mask mandates in the wake of rising cases. “It seems to me [that the governor] is trying to use a disaster declaration to prohibit anybody from responding to the disaster… which is odd,” an attorney representing the schools told the Wall Street Journal last week.
After court rulings in separate lawsuits last week that allowed officials in Dallas and Bexar counties to reintroduce mask mandates, the Texas Supreme Court temporarily blocked the orders. But on Monday the Texas Supreme Court denied a request to include Travis County—home to the state capital of Austin and nearly 1.3 million people—in its ruling against the mandates. And in recent days local officials have continued to issue mask mandates as the court battles continue.
Abbott, meanwhile, announced Wednesday that he had tested positive for coronavirus just a day after a “standing-room only” event in Collin County, where no one was wearing a mask. Abbott is fully vaccinated, has reportedly told people he’s received a third booster shot, and is receiving a monoclonal antibody treatment. He’s said that so far he’s experiencing no symptoms.