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Texas Schools Set Masking Policies After Abbott Lifts Statewide Mandate

NBC Dallas logo NBC Dallas 3/5/2021 Frank Heinz and Matt Jackson
a group of young boys standing in a room: Dallas ISD students, in masks and face shields, line up for class during the 2020 school year. © Provided by NBC Dallas

Dallas ISD students, in masks and face shields, line up for class during the 2020 school year.

Updated March 5

A day after Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said the statewide mandate requiring people to wear masks in public would end on March 10, the Texas Education Agency told school districts they should keep the current mask policy in place but have the power to change it.

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Wednesday afternoon, the TEA issued a statement saying school boards have the "full authority to determine their local mask policy."

The announcement came only minutes after the state health department said teachers, school staffers and child care workers were now eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

Steven Poole, executive director of the teachers' union United Educators Association, said he believed districts would keep their mask mandates in place.

"I don't see any of our districts doing that especially with the guidance from the Texas Education Agency that masks are required. It would take a lot to overturn that guidance from TEA," Poole said.

Dallas superintendent Michael Hinojosa said he planned to keep the current policy in place and believed he had the full support of the school board.

But he also said he feared the TEA's advice that school boards can now change the policy might open a controversial debate.

"It does create a new narrative, some new rancor," Hinojosa said. "We don't need that right now. We need to be together and get this behind us. We've almost whipped it. We've got to get there!"

In Fort Worth, school district officials said simply they planned to keep the current precautions in place.

In Arlington, district leaders said they needed more time to decide what to do.

On Tuesday, NBC 5 asked local school districts how they planned to respond to the governor ending the mandate. Their statements are below.

Southern Methodist University will continue to mandate face masks and social distancing on campus for the remainder of the Spring semester. SMU said "We will, as always, base any decisions relating to University COVID policies and practices on the most recent health guidance and information available"

Texas A&M University says Friday that they plan to finish the current semester following masking guidelines already in place. "Over the past year, the Texas A&M System institutions have done an amazing job in responding to the pandemic and protecting the health of our faculty, staff and students. With the end of the spring semester only 6-8 weeks away, A&M system members should continue to follow system guidance, “Guidance for Spring Semester of 2021 and Related Issues” issued in October 2020 on testing, face coverings, classes, physical distancing, occupancy limitations, co-curricular activities, among other matters. Based on our assessment of current conditions, this step will help us successfully complete the semester and is consistent with Gov. Greg Abbott’s order that masking and other protocols should be decided by our institutions, not by the state. At the conclusion of the spring semester, we anticipate System guidance being lifted so that all rules, procedures and practices regarding classes, travel, face coverings, testing, etc., will be determined locally at your institution informed by your conditions and reviewed by the System. The System may provide additional guidance this semester or going forward, as conditions warrant.

Texas Christian University said  "At this time, we have not issued any changes to our current COVID-19 safety protocols. We are assessing the potential impact to campus with public health officials, our medical team of advisors, and University leadership. Our top priority is always the health and safety of our campus community." TCU will inform the community if anything changes.

University of North Texas president, Neal Smatresk said "UNT's current COVID-19 safety protocols have been developed using local, state and federal guidelines, and have kept our campus community safe throughout the pandemic. We expect students, faculty and staff to continue to comply with our safety measures so that we can hold our face-to-face classes and other events safely. In addition, our in-person graduation ceremonies this spring will be masked, socially distanced and will not include walking the stage. "

University of Texas at Arlington said they are currently assessing the governor's executive order and will inform of any changes once they reach a decision.

Allen ISD announced via Twitter that it is awaiting guidance from the Texas Education Agency after the Governor's announcement.

Argyle ISD is awaiting guidance from the TEA.

Arlington ISD released a statement saying "The district reached out to the Texas Education Agency (TEA) for guidance on how the decision will impact safety protocols in schools. The TEA shared that guidance will be coming soon for schools. Until that guidance is provided, the Arlington ISD will continue to follow its existing safety protocols for all staff and students."

Birdville ISD released a statement on Twitter, saying "No changes to BISD COVID-19 safety protocol at this time. Updates made to our safety protocol will be shared when available."

Burleson ISD said in a statement "Although the order directs districts to follow health protocols provided by the Texas Education Agency (TEA), TEA has not issued any updated health protocols related to the governor's order. Once we receive the TEA health protocols, we will update our district health protocols accordingly and will share them with staff, students and parents."

Carroll ISD is awaiting guidance from the TEA. They said that they will inform of any changes by March 10.

Cedar Hill ISD released the following statement: "Cedar Hill Independent School District, we certainly believe the mask requirement should continue for the foreseeable future. The masks have allowed us to return to a semblance of normalcy. They have prevented COVID-19 cases and allowed in-classroom learning to begin and thrive. We believe in taking care of scholars, staff and their families. We need to be mindful of the health and well-being of others.

As we plan for the 2021-2022 school year, we understand that social distancing is a key component for CHISD. I will be grateful for the day when we no longer have to wear masks, but we will not suspend this necessary public health measure until the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and other medical leaders deem it safe."

Dallas ISD released the following statement: "Under the new guidelines, a public school system can continue requiring mask, however, the local school board has the authority to determine their district's policy. While the number of positive cases in Dallas County are improving, Dallas ISD recommends continuing our current mask policy.

Denton ISD said in a statement that the district "remains committed to the protocols currently in place, including wearing face coverings." The statement went on to state "The district’s current Health/Safety Protocols have been developed with guidance from local officials, including Denton County Health Services, and are based on protocols from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and recommendations from the Texas Education Agency (TEA).

“Our teachers have yet to be prioritized for the COVID-19 vaccine, and they have been on the frontlines throughout the pandemic - keeping schools open for our students,” said Dr. Jamie Wilson, superintendent of schools. “We will look at our protocols based on the announcement, and the safety of our students and staff is paramount.”

DeSoto ISD Superintendent Dr. D’Andre J. Weaver said “At this time, DeSoto ISD is clear that it will continue to mandate the use of masks in district facilities. We have scheduled several meetings this week and early next week to discuss and review current plans and make necessary adjustments as a result of these recent announcements.”

Ennis ISD says they will also wait on guidance from the TEA.

Everman ISD says it is also awaiting guidance from TEA.

Fort Worth ISD said in a short news release Wednesday afternoon that the district's guidelines, including mask-wearing and other safety procedures, will continue.

Frisco ISD said "The district looks forward to continued guidance from the Governor and Texas Education Agency regarding how this will impact schools. Until then, face coverings will continue to be required in FISD schools"

Garland ISD will be requiring students and staff to continue to wear masks in their facilities. GISD said "We all look forward to the day when masks will no longer be a requirement, based on guidance from our local health authorities and the Texas Education Agency. For now, we will continue to mask up and stay safe."

Granbury ISD said on Twitter "We are exploring what that means to us as a school district and are awaiting further guidance from the Texas Education Agency."

Grand Prairie ISD said it is awaiting more guidance from the Texas Education Agency.

Grapevine ISD is awaiting guidance from the TEA.

Hurst-Euless-Bedford ISD is awaiting guidance from the TEA.

Irving ISD said "Our number one priority continues to be the health and safety of our staff and students. The district is currently reviewing the Governor’s Executive Order and is awaiting further guidance from the Texas Education Agency. As we learn more information, we will promptly communicate with families and staff.  At this time, all students and staff are still required to wear masks until further notice."

Joshua ISD announced on Twitter that the district "is waiting on further guidance from TEA Commissioner Morath, we are asking all staff and students to continue following our current safety protocols including social distancing and required masks through Friday, March 12."

Lewisville ISD released a statement on Twitter saying "Our schools will remain in Level Orange until LISD has the opportunity to consult with local health experts & make an informed decision w/ the best interest of students & staff in mind."

Little Elm ISD released a statement on Twitter saying they would respond in the coming days.

Mansfield ISD said "The safety of our students, staff and families will always be top priority. Mansfield ISD is currently assessing and evaluating how this will affect the district's current safety and health protocols. Until then, students and staff will continue to follow current practices. Throughout this coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, district administration has stayed in continuous conversation with health experts from all levels. The COVID-19 Advisory Task Force-which consists of parents, staff, students and community members-will be meeting on Thursday, March 4 to further discuss. MISD will continue to monitor the situation and communicate any updates as necessary."

Mesquite ISD said "We will continue with current safety protocols, including masks, while we await guidance from the Texas Education Agency on how public schools will proceed. Once we receive more information we will communicate any changes with parents and staff."

Midlothian ISD said they are "waiting for further guidance from the TEA Commissioner Morath and our local health authority. We continue to require all staff and students to wear masks and follow our current health and safety protocols until Wednesday, March 10. Currently, we are operating under the health protocols found in the guidance by TEA. As soon as Texas school districts receive more information from the TEA and our local health authority, we will keep you informed of any changes that might occur beginning March 10."

Northwest ISD also said it is awaiting guidance from the TEA.

Royse City ISD is awaiting guidance from the TEA.

Waxahachie ISD is also awaiting guidance from the TEA.

Weatherford ISD said on Twitter "While WISD is waiting on further guidance from TEA, we are asking staff & students to continue following our current safety protocols including social distancing and required masks until March 10th."

NBC 5's Wayne Carter contributed to this report.

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