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Texas School District Uses Clever Loophole To Mandate Masks

The move is extremely awesome.

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School mask mandates are controversial; school dress codes aren’t (even when they should be).

So when faced with openly defying a state ban on school mask mandates and skirting the ban by altering its dress code, the board of trustees of the Paris Independent School District chose the latter.

The Paris News reports that the PISD board voted 5-1 at an emergency meeting Tuesday to modify the district-wide dress code, the same document that prohibits students from wearing hats on campus, to require that they wear masks.

“The Texas Governor does not have the authority to usurp the Board of Trustees’ exclusive power and duty to govern and oversee the management of the public schools of the district. Nothing in the Governor’s Executive Order 38 states he has suspended Chapter 11 of the Texas Education Code, and therefore the Board has elected to amend its dress code consistent with its statutory authority,” the district stated in a press release after the vote.

(Chapter 11 of the Texas Education Code states that “school districts and charter schools created in accordance with the laws of this state have the primary responsibility for implementing the state’s system of public education and ensuring  student performance in accordance with this code,” and that school district boards may “adopt rules that require students at a school…to wear school uniforms if the board determines that the requirement would improve the learning environment at the school.”

The new language the PISD board adopted reads as follows: “For health reasons, masks are required for all employees and students to mitigate flu, cold, pandemic, and any other communicable diseases.” It was vetted by the district’s attorney, a sign that the district is aware that a lawsuit is a certainty.

But legal action is a problem for the future, and the board’s decision to mandate masks through the dress code is meant to protect students and staff returning to schools this week as the situation in Paris deteriorates.

Dr. Amanda Green of the Paris-Lamar County Health District said at the meeting that the addition of 70 active cases in one day to the 435 existing active cases was concerning. The Paris Regional Medical Center had already run out of ventilators, she told the board.

On the state level, Gov. Greg Abbott—who just tested positive for COVID himself—is asking hospitals to pause elective procedures and trying to recruit medical personnel from out of state as cases and deaths spike worryingly. It’s telling that despite these drastic steps, Abbott is refusing to take the obvious step of allowing local jurisdictions to mandate masks, which falls short of the even more obvious step of instituting a statewide mandate.

Some parents might be upset—one father who claimed his child suffered mental health consequences from last year’s state mask mandate said “shame on you” after the vote—but the new mandate protects students, staff, and the community as a whole. In the absence of sane leadership from the state, the board did what it had to do.