Legal battle intensifies as districts start school with mask mandates

A new school year kicks off in more districts across Central Texas, with students in Manor ISD and San Marcos Consolidated ISD heading back to class Monday morning. Both districts will mandate masks for students and staff, as the legal battle over masks in schools intensifies.

At Manor ISD, Monday marks the return to in-person learning for a significant number of students and staff. District officials say getting back to face-to-face instruction is critical for students’ success and to address learning loss during the pandemic.

"It’s an exciting day. The first day of school is always a very exciting day and I think they should expect to have a great day and go back to schools fully protected," said Manor ISD Board President Monique Celedon. "Face to face is definitely very, very important for children. I think they need that interaction with other students. I think they need that social environment. And then there are some students that struggle not being able to learn in person. So we want to reach those students who may have fallen behind because of virtual."

With that shift to primarily in-person learning in Manor, masks are required for all students, staff and visitors at school and district buildings—as well as on school buses. In addition, the district will provide items like face shields and hand sanitizer, use Plexiglas dividers, clean and sanitize buildings daily, and limit visitors to schools. There is also a remote option for parents who are still not comfortable sending their students in person. School officials say they will continue to monitor COVID-19 in the community, and be flexible in their response to the virus.  

Manor’s mask mandate technically took effect a week ago, and while district officials acknowledge it could face court challenges, they say it was largely the product of a survey of parents and staff.

"The survey indicated that a majority of our parents wanted to protect their children and they wanted us to require masks. We heard our community and we did what our community wanted," said Celedon. "Manor ISD wants to ensure that our children are safe walking through our schools, and that is something that we will tackle as it comes up, but for now we are going to require that our students and our staff wear masks."

While district officials in Manor say most families are on board with the mask mandate, the subject has become contentious in Leander—where school started on August 12th and a temporary mask mandate is now in effect. The Leander ISD School Board has called a special meeting for Monday at 6:15 PM. They will be discussing the resolution to require masks, as well as other COVID health and safety protocols.

A heated protest was held in Leander last Wednesday as the mandate went into effect, amid a surge in COVID cases in the community. So far, Leander ISD has reported a total of 251 positive COVID cases among students and staff since the start of the school year.

With the mask mandate now in effect, Leander school officials say families who are currently enrolled in remote learning may transition back to in-person instruction by contacting their school’s registrar.

On the issue of masks in schools, a trial gets underway Monday morning in Travis County District Court in a case led by local parents as well as school districts including Austin. The plaintiffs are trying to get the court to bar enforcement of Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order banning mask mandates. If they are successful, the result could be another statewide injunction against the governor although he could appeal that to the Supreme Court as in similar cases in Dallas and Bexar Counties. 


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