Texas Lawmakers Could Create a Mask Mandate Option for School Districts

A couple of dueling bills that are expected to move through the special legislative session could give more power to districts, with an exception for parents who want to opt out

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The battle over masks inside the classroom continues in Austin.

State lawmakers are expected to put forth legislation related to the issue before the special session draws to a close in the next couple of weeks.

One piece of legislation one would codify Gov. Greg Abbott's ban on local mask mandates and the other would give more power to local districts to set their mask policies.

But before any of it can move forward, the bill sponsors – Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano and Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston– are making some changes following a Monday night hearing of the House Public Education Committee.

They want to make an amendment to the bill language that would allow an exemption for parents to opt their child out of wearing a mask.

“What we ought to do in terms of masks is leave it up to the individual school districts, with the only caveat being that it ought to have a parent opt-out provision in there,” said Dutton, the chair of the committee, in a report by the Dallas Morning News.

Leach said he believes in local control, “but not at the expense of the family.”

“The state policy should be that -- whatever those policies may be at the local level -- we’re going to at the state-level recognize, protect and empower the rights of parents to make those decisions,” he said.

Click here to read more from the Dallas Morning News.

The discussions in Austin are still one step closer toward a solution for parents who have pulled their kids out of in-person learning due to rising COVID-19 cases.

Gov. Abbott's ban on mask mandates is still tied up in both state and federal lawsuits, which is giving some districts a little room to require masks for time the being.

NBC 5 had a chance to speak with Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath about it on Monday. He said the court cases need to play out but in the meantime he’s keeping an eye on the developments.

"This issue has a lot of folks fired up, it's currently being litigated in the courts," Morath said. "What does the evidence say for this practice in school? We're constantly examining evidence," he said. "Where do we see studies on it that have proven one thing or another? What does our own evidence say in Texas schools and classrooms?"

Meanwhile, the Texas House overwhelmingly approved a bill to fund virtual learning, something many school districts have been looking for.

It allows schools districts to create their own virtual learning programs, but with guidelines. It would also allow up to 10 percent of a district's student population to go online for learning.

"Senate bill 15 provides school districts and charter schools to create their own education programs but includes significant guardrails to protect students, parents, districts and charters to ensure quality, equity, accountability, and an effective system," said Rep. Keith Bel, R-Kaufman.

Since the House made a change to the Senate bill with an amendment, this bill now goes back to the Senate for final approval.

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