As thousands of students and educators in North Texas prepare to return to school in a matter of weeks, a Texas educators group is calling for more local control over mask-wearing in schools.
Texas State Teachers Association represents about 50,000 members, according to association president Ovidia Molina. This week, the association called on Gov. Greg Abbott to allow school districts to require masks when students go back to school. In May, Gov. Abbott signed an executive order prohibiting mask mandates by government entities.
“At the beginning of the pandemic, we were asking for masks. A year and a half later, we’re asking for masks again,” Molina said Thursday. “With the COVID cases going up, it’s the safest thing to do. We’re going to have more students back in our classrooms, more people interacting with each other in school settings and then going back out to their communities.”
In response, Abbott doubled down on his executive order in May tweeting this week “the time for government mask mandates is over - now is the time for personal responsibility.”
Abbott signed an executive order Thursday, known as GA-38. The order “emphasizes that the path forward relies on personal responsibility rather than government mandates”, Abbott said.
Molina said the association’s push for more local control over mask mandates in schools also derives from current COVID-19 vaccination rates. Douglas Loveday, a spokesperson for the Texas Department of State Health Services, said about 28% of Texans between the ages of 12 and 17 are fully vaccinated against the virus as of this week.
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“We’d like to see that increase especially going into the new [school] year,” Loveday said. “As we look at the age population as we go down and get younger, we’re seeing there’s less vaccine uptake right now. Another age group 18 to 34, that’s about 40% of that age group in Texas fully vaccinated. Again, about 28% for 12 to 17. So, there’s work to be done.”
Recently, DSHS partnered with Walmart as part of a new campaign to bring pop-up events to Texas cities in hopes of talking to parents and families about the importance of getting younger Texans vaccinated. They plan to host one at next Friday, Aug. 6 from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Walmart on 2900 Renaissance Square in southeast Fort Worth.
“Folks are going to do their grocery shopping anyway and here’s an opportunity with a great vaccine provider who’s offering these vaccinations without appointments,” Loveday said.
This year, virtual learning will not be an option at Fort Worth ISD. Regarding masks, district spokesperson Clint Bond told NBC 5 on Thursday they cannot require them but do encourage it for anyone who is more comfortable wearing one.
Molina said she fears encouragement will not be enough.
“I get questions about…what are we going to do? What are we going to do? The only person that can fix this…the only person that can help us feel safe is the governor, and he’s not doing anything right now,” she said. “We’re advocating for our immune-compromised students who can’t get a vaccine, our educators, and it’s falling on deaf ears.”
The new school year for Fort Worth ISD begins on August 16.