August 25, 2021 106 PM
Story Update: After publication, Presidio ISD rescinded its mask mandate, citing a recent Texas Supreme Court ruling that struck down a similar mandate in school districts in San Antonio. PISD still strongly encourages students and staff to mask up though.
PRESIDIO COUNTY –– Late last week, the Texas Education Agency decided to temporarily stop enforcing Governor Greg Abbott’s executive order that bans school districts from implementing a mask mandate. Prior to the TEA’s aboutface, Texas school districts, in this most recent school year, could not mandate their staff and students wear masks, merely recommend they do so.
Shortly after TEA’s announcement last Thursday, Presidio Independent School District quickly jumped into action and announced that all staff, students and visitors will be required to wear masks while on district property. “Facial coverings will be part of our district dress code. We had this mask mandate in place all last year, and our students and staff did a great job of wearing masks. We hope that everyone understands the importance of wearing masks in indoor facilities,” Presidio ISD Superintendent Ray Vasquez said in an email. “We are following [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] recommendations, and just trying to keep our district as safe as possible.”
Even though PISD is less than three weeks into the new school year, there have already been eight positive cases on campus –– with six still active –– according to the PISD Police Department. “We do have some students that are currently quarantined as recommended by TEA Health Guidance,” Vasquez said.
In its updated guidance, TEA requires the school to report any COVID cases to the county’s local health authority, who is Rachel Sonne of the Texas Department of State Health Services, as well as all staff and parents of those who tested positive. “Parents who opt to send their children to school in the two weeks following exposure are encouraged to closely monitor their children for symptoms,” the guidance reads.
Vasquez said in addition to working with the local health authority, he’s also been consulting with Presidio County Judge Cinderela Guevara on how to move forward as the virus mounts its comeback. “We are working collaboratively together and taking all the precautionary measures to have a safe learning environment in our district,” Vasquez said.
In a statement last Friday, Guevara pushed for masks in schools, saying “CDC officials also called for universal masking of teachers, staff, students, and visitors in schools, regardless of vaccination status and community transmission of the virus.”
Even as the delta variant has swept through Texas leading to hospitalization numbers not seen since January, Governor Abbott has refused to drop his executive order banning mask mandates. As the first day of school was fast approaching, a number of school districts either defied Abbott’s order or tried to create workarounds, like making masks a part of the district’s dress code. Abbott, through Attorney General Ken Paxton, quickly fired back, taking the districts to court.
Then last Thursday, the Texas Supreme Court temporarily allowed districts to implement a mask mandate, saying that Abbott needed to take these matters before a lower appellate court before being heard again.
With these state level battles still being waged, Superintendent Vasquez said it’s been difficult to navigate the ever changing COVID protocols. “But we have a great staff here in PISD and we will make the necessary changes/adjustments needed to provide our students the best education possible, while maintaining a safe learning environment for all,” Vasquez said.
Up in north county, the Marfa Independent School Board is voting today on whether to require masks on campus. As The Big Bend Sentinel previously reported, MISD Superintendent Oscar Aguero was frustrated with the way the TEA recently had not been in step with the CDC guidelines. In a previous school board meeting, Aguero said that he weighed defying the governor’s orders like other school districts, but he didn’t want to leave his staff with the decision to either obey direction from their boss or their governor.
“It’s something the school board has to vote on, so a decision will be made Thursday evening,” Aguero said on Tuesday about the upcoming meeting tonight. “I can’t tell you which way it will go.” In the past, Aguero has said that if the state allowed it, he would push for a mask mandate.
“At the present moment, we do not have any active cases. The only case that I know of was my daughter and that was prior to school,” Aguero said, adding that the lower grades have generally been wearing their masks more than the upper grades.
Aguero said that if the board does go through with a mask requirement that he will recommend for the new policy to take effect on Monday. “That way if they don’t have masks, they have time to get masks,” he said.
Going forward, TEA said it would continue to not enforce the governor’s executive order until litigation between the districts and the state resolve.