The rule, announced at a Board of Trustees special meeting on Monday night, August 9, goes against Gov. Greg Abbott's executive order banning mask mandates at Texas schools. It follows Dallas ISD's announcement that it will also require masks at its schools.
"I recognize that in a society where interests conflict there can be no absolute response that will rest with all of our constituents or stakeholders," Superintendent Dr. Stephanie Elizalde said. "That being said, I am responsible for the safety, health, and welfare of each and every one of our students and staff."
The new rule will go into effect at Austin ISD campuses and district offices on Wednesday, August 11.
Before breaking into two executive sessions, the board listened to an hour of parent testimony pleading for the district to enforce a face mask mandate despite Gov. Abbott's executive order preventing school districts from doing so.
After executive session, Austin's medical director and health authority Dr. Desmar Walkes presented a slideshow to the board containing data she believes supports the decision to enforce face masks in schools.
This comes as hospitalizations and ICU patients in Austin are reaching levels not seen since January. There are 647 COVID-19 patients in Austin-area hospitals, the most since January 22, and 218 patients in ICUs, the most since January 20.
AISD has said it is strongly encouraging students, staff, and visitors to wear a mask indoors and around others not in their household. It is also offering a virtual learning option for students in kindergarten through sixth grade.
The school district said it would update families on virtual learning soon.
In his most recent executive order, Gov. Abbott restated that no government entity, including school districts, can require people to wear masks. "Failure to comply" with the order can result in a fine of up to $1,000.
Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston, said going against the state could have other consequences for districts.
"It does, however, prompt potentially a bigger investigation or more ire from the governor, who might return to the executive order and increase the fine or be more precise about what he'd like to see in terms of mask policies," said Rottinghaus.
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