back to school

Mask Guidance Should Be Up to Local School Districts, Teachers Federation Says

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) issued an executive order in May that prohibits districts from requiring face coverings

NBC 5 News

One of the largest teacher's associations in Texas is calling on Gov. Greg Abbott (R) to allow local school districts to make their own decisions about face coverings as COVID-19 cases rise across the state and students prepare to return to school.

More than three-quarters of respondents in a survey conducted by the Texas chapter of the American Federation of Teachers said Abbott should allow districts to set their own protocols.

A different teachers association, the Texas State Teachers Association, called for similar local freedoms last week.

In response, Abbott doubled down on the executive order he issued in May, signing an executive order emphasizing "that the path forward relies on personal responsibility rather than government mandates."

One of the first points Texas AFT raised was that children under 12 years old still cannot be vaccinated against COVID-19.

"The information about this delta variant is not good at all, and as we know, our elementary-aged students are not vaccinated yet," Dallas ISD teacher and Alliance-AFT member Chrisdya Houston said. "Banning local governments from being able to institute a much-needed mask mandate endangers our lives and poses increasing risks to all of those in our community."

The number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the state has climbed to levels not reached since February. Experts say the delta variant now accounts for the majority of coronavirus cases in Texas.

While the largest school district in North Texas, Dallas ISD, cannot mandate masks, it is encouraging them and implementing other safety protocols.

The national branch of AFT is dedicating $5 million for a back to school campaign that will help educate employees and families at the local level of the need for investment in better ventilation, technology support, vaccination education, and support for the emotional needs of students during the pandemic, the association said.

"With our governor refusing to allow local flexibility, we are advocating for all school districts to continue to make safety a priority, including mask use in schools when necessary," Texas AFT president Zeph Capo said. "While we celebrate a return to school, let's not be careless and reckless. We must take the responsibility to make sure that those who can't be vaccinated and those that are at risk from compromised health aren't harmed by lax safety protocols."

Texas AFT has about 66,000 members, including teachers, paraprofessionals, support personnel, and higher-education employees.

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