Texas has stopped enforcing Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) ban on mask mandates in schools, at least for now, the state’s education agency said Thursday amid an ongoing surge in COVID-19 cases.
The Texas Education Agency issued a public guidance letter saying it would stop enforcing the widely criticized ban, pointing to ongoing court challenges. The guidance also updated how schools are required to handle positive COVID-19 cases in classrooms. Previously, the state agency only recommended districts notify families, teachers and staff in close contact to a positive case. Now, districts will be required to make those notifications.
The news came the same day the Texas State Supreme Court ruled local school districts could require face coverings in an attempt to stop the spread of coronavirus infections. That ruling is temporary as challenges to Abbott’s order wind their way through the court system.
Abbott had drawn nationwide fire over his outright refusal to wind back his executive order banning mask mandates across the state. The governor and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton have vowed to sue any district that ignores the order. The Dallas Morning News notes Paxton has published a public list of districts that have violated the order in an attempt to shame them.
Some school districts have defied the order anyway amid surging infections. The Associated Press notes that at least seven counties and 48 school districts — including those in Dallas, San Antonio and Houston — had issued mask requirements.
The delta strain is responsible for rising case numbers in every state, straining hospitals and prompting other governors to restore mask mandates and impose vaccine requirements for state and health care workers.
Abbott himself tested positive for the coronavirus this week, despite being fully vaccinated.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended all students wear masks when they return to classrooms.
Public health officials have expressed alarm at the surge in COVID-19, particularly as many students aren’t yet eligible for a vaccine. Shots in the U.S. are only available to people aged 12 and over, and cases of the virus are rising in kids, leading to record numbers of hospitalizations.