State

Texas School Boards Allowed to End Mask Mandates in Districts, Per TEA

School districts may still require students and staff to wear masks.

Although Governor Greg Abbott’s most recent executive order will largely end pandemic restrictions, a recent press release by the Texas Education Agency says that school districts can determine their own health protocols.

“TEA’s authority to implement operational requirements for public schools remains in effect (e.g., TEA’s Public Health Guidance)… Under this updated guidance, a public school system’s current practices on masks may continue unchanged,” the release reads.

“Local school boards have full authority to determine their local mask policy.”

TEA attached a guidance memo, mostly advisory, that encourages districts to require 14-day quarantines for positive-tested students among other recommendations that have been in place.

Effectively, it requires mask mandates wherever school boards do not formally end them. The guidance orders masks for all students and staff but allows that “the governing board of a school system may modify or eliminate by formal action the above mask-related requirements.”

The memo acknowledges that national health experts, including the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics, have found little risk of widespread infection and death among children in schools.

“While children do get infected by COVID-19 and some severe outcomes have been reported in children, relatively few children with COVID-19 are hospitalized or have severe symptoms. Furthermore, the American Academy of Pediatrics notes that COVID-19 risks must be balanced with the need for children to attend school in person, given that lack of physical access to school leads to a number of negative consequences, placing ‘children and adolescents at considerable risk of morbidity, and in some case, mortality.’”

TEA Commissioner Mike Morath told the House Committee on Public Education as much earlier this week, noting that the TEA has deployed more than a hundred million masks to schools.

“School as a congregant setting… is quite possibly the safest congregant setting that has existed during the pandemic. Fauci noted that kids are safer in school than in the community at large. And the data has borne that out,” Morath said.

Despite the relative safety of schools, Morath and his higher education counterpart Harrison Keller both foretold a lastingly virtual or hybrid education for Texas public students from kindergarten through college, with Morath cautioning against a hasty lowering of standards that could leave students forever handicapped.

“If the curricular experience for those students is adjusted, so that the teachers meet those kids where they are, but they don’t ever cover grade-level content at the same time — if it’s only a downward adjustment — those students will never catch up,” said Morath.

The news that school boards can vote to end their own mask mandates comes alongside an announcement by the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) that teachers and other child care workers are eligible for the vaccine.

“The Texas Department of State Health Services today notified all vaccine providers that they should immediately include school and child care workers in vaccine administration,” the announcement reads.

“Last night, DSHS received a letter from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services directing states to expand eligibility to include people who work in school and child care operations. The federal directive defined the people eligible as ‘those who work in pre-primary, primary, and secondary schools, as well as Head Start and Early Head Start programs (including teachers, staff, and bus drivers) and those who work as or for licensed child care providers, including center-based and family care providers.’”

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