No mask requirement for Marfa ISD, Presidio ISD recalls its mandate

PRESIDIO COUNTY –– In a meeting last Thursday, the Marfa Independent School District Board decided to not go through with a mask mandate on campus. There is a caveat though: If the school shuts down from a COVID outbreak, then Superintendent Oscar Aguero has the authority to temporarily require masks once school returns in person. 

While much of the discussion on whether to implement a mask mandate was held in a closed session with the school district’s attorney, Aguero said in an interview on Monday, “We want to plan in case an outbreak happens. I now have the authority to require a mask.”

As it stands right now, there are no active cases on campus and no student or staff is quarantining. So far, around 30 students have taken COVID tests, but all have come back negative. In the meeting last week, Aguero did say that students in the lower grades have been wearing their masks at a higher rate than the upper grades. 

Then, on Tuesday, the Marfa School Board held another meeting where the members slightly adjusted the district’s COVID protocols. Unlike last year, MISD is not providing online learning, so if there is a COVID outbreak, class will be canceled rather than move online. 

According to the school’s most recent COVID guidance handbook, school will only be canceled once there are seven confirmed cases on campus. “In-person instruction will resume after two instructional days,” the handbook reads. And if there are 11 or more positive cases, all in-person instruction will be canceled for one week. 

If there are between one and six positive cases then, “In-person instruction continues. Limited student group activities. No common assemblies in closed areas smaller than gymnasium,” the handbook reads. 

“We’re not allowed to do remote instruction anymore. That’s the biggest thing,” Aguero said. “It’s not funded through the [Texas Education Agency].”

Down in south county, Presidio Independent School District rescinded its mask mandate last week after the Texas Supreme Court backed Governor Greg Abbott’s executive order that bans all governmental entities from implementing any sort of mask requirement. 

Earlier in August, soon after the Texas Education Association said it would stop enforcing Abbott’s executive order, PISD officials 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.

Yet barely a week after PISD imposed this order, it reversed course after the Texas Supreme Court struck down a mask mandate at San Antonio ISD, siding with Governor Abbott’s executive order. 

“Starting tomorrow, we will no longer require facial coverings in our district, we will still strongly encourage everyone to wear masks in the district. This decision was not made by Presidio ISD,” the district police said on August 26 in a statement on Facebook.  

Despite this reversal, positive cases are popping up on campus. As of September 1, there have been a total of 16 COVID cases at PISD. “We will continue to make every effort to keep our students safe. Make no mistake, students and staff are encouraged to continue wearing masks, especially after a rise in positive cases,” the district police said.

And all over the tri-county, the number of positive cases has slowly been ticking up. As of Wednesday, there are an estimated 17 active cases in Presidio County and an estimated 23 in Brewster County. In a statement earlier in August, County Judge Cinderela 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.” At the time she noted the cases were beginning to rise throughout the region. 

With many of these legal battles between school districts and the state still being waged, Superintendent Vasquez said it’s been a challenge navigating 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,” he said.