What to Know
- Dallas ISD is temporarily requiring all staff, students and visitors to wear masks when on district property.
- Superintendent Michael Hinojosa says the measure will help protect staff and students from the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus.
- Hinojosa told NBC 5 last week that he was looking into whether or not Dallas can have virtual as an option later this year.
The Dallas Independent School District will require face masks on district property beginning Tuesday, a move the district says is necessary to help prevent the spread of the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus.
Superintendent Michael Hinojosa made the announcement during a Monday morning news conference, defying an executive order from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) that prohibits districts from mandating face masks.
"Governor Abbott’s order does not limit the district’s rights as an employer and educational institution to establish reasonable and necessary safety rules for its staff and students," a district statement read. "Dallas ISD remains committed to the safety of our students and staff."
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Hinojosa, who leads the largest school district in North Texas and second-largest in the state, referenced the recent UT Southwestern COVID-19 forecast which predicts a worrying spike in virus-related hospitalizations by the end of this month if behaviors aren't changed.
According to the study, should behavior in Dallas and Tarrant counties continue in the current unmitigated, pre-pandemic patterns, with no masking and no social distancing, the number of occupied hospital beds in Dallas County is predicted to reach 1,500 by Aug. 23 and could reach 4,000 by October.
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Parents both in and outside of Dallas ISD reacted to the news -- many positively.
"My son is behind in school he's been virtual since March 2020 and he has to go back," said Brittany Liles, a Frisco ISD parent who chose in-person learning, despite what she said is a strong fear she's putting his health at risk. "He can't get the shot, I'm setting it in my mind, he's going to get covid."
"As a parent, resident and as your Dallas County Judge, I am so proud of [Dallas ISD] for protecting students and staff!" Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins wrote in a tweet soon after Hinojosa's announcement. "Their actions will lead to more hospital bed space for ANY condition in North Texas."
Other large urban districts like Houston ISD are looking into also requiring masks, but Fort Worth ISD was not as of Monday.
"I believe the legal process will play out," Fort Worth ISD Superintendent Kent Scribner said. "We're strongly encouraging the wearing of masks, continue with protocols, using of sanitizer."
Hinojosa said last week that he was looking into whether or not Dallas could have virtual learning as an option later this year.
Campuses have safety plans in place, which include encouraging students to wear masks, social distancing, sanitization and temperature checks.
"I'm willing to take a look and see what we can do because things have changed, the narrative has changed in the last six weeks," Hinojosa said. "I might have to have the option in my back pocket because I don't want kids to not be in school somewhere."
Hinojosa's motivation lies in the first few schools that started back this week. He said half the students expected in attendance did not show up.
"We only got half the kids at our five schools from our projected enrollment, that's telling me people aren't coming back," Hinojosa said. "Next Monday we'll have 41 more cases. By next Wednesday I'll know a whole lot more on how serious we'll have to be on standing up that virtual program."
Hinojosa and the leaders of other school districts are trying to figure out how to pay for virtual programs since the TEA has said it won't give districts money for virtual programs.
Abbott has announced a second special legislative session, so the question now is to see if lawmakers can do something to help.
However, whether Abbott's executive orders must be legally followed by the school districts would likely have to play out in court.
As Dallas ISD welcomes its second wave of students returning to class, the district is operating under three different school year calendars to help some students catch up after a year of virtual learning.
Forty-one schools are taking part in an intercession calendar, which gives them five extra weeks of instruction to make up for lost time and opportunities during the pandemic.
The third and final wave of students returning to school -- which includes most of the students and campuses in the district -- will be on Aug. 16.
"One thing that we know is that safe practices are important, that said, one thing that we've learned along the way is that lockdowns are wrong during the course of a pandemic," Abbott said last week during the Asian-American Hotel Owners Association's National Convention in Dallas.