A North Texas school district is coming under fire after officials announced they would be reimplementing COVID-19 mandates and requiring students and staff to test before coming back on school grounds.

Garland Independent School District told parents that COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, and infection reporting are now mandatory.

The district sent out a special message from the school nurse, which said that if a staff member or student started to show symptoms of the virus, they must complete a COVID-19 test. Furthermore, if they are diagnosed with COVID-19—either by positive test or assumed positive based on symptoms—staff and parents should report all positive COVID-19 cases.

The Dallas Express reported Sunday that employees who report their positive test must provide their employee ID number, gender, home address, the type of COVID-19 test used, where the employee may have contracted the virus, and their COVID-19 vaccination status.

However, the district has changed the form to include only their employee ID, work email, date of first symptom, and the date when the test was completed.

The message also outlined guidelines that staff and students must follow, including that they must not come to school until five days after their symptoms first appeared. Additionally, the school noted that “staff and students who are able to return on day six should wear a face covering while on campus for the full 10 days.”

Michelle Evans, policy director for Texans for Vaccine Choice, told Texas Scorecard that this is nothing new and more schools will continue to violate students’ and staff members’ rights without strict guidance.

“Like we saw in 2021, when several large districts openly defied Governor Abbott’s Executive Order prohibiting mask mandates in schools—without consequence—Garland ISD is knowingly and flagrantly violating both SB 29 and existing laws regarding requiring people to share their vaccination status,” said Evans. “Texans for Vaccine Choice anticipates that, without strict guidance from TEA and the Governor’s office, more school districts will fail to comply with laws protecting students, teachers and families.”

During the 88th Legislative Session, the legislature passed Senate Bill 29 by State Sen. Brian Birdwell (R–Granbury), which prohibits state agencies and local governments from requiring individuals to wear a face mask, receive a vaccine, or keep their businesses closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 or its variants. However, it does not address private businesses or universities. The measure was signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott and went into effect September 1.

State Rep. Brian Harrison (R–Midlothian) filed the “COVID-19 Vaccine Freedom Act.” The act would have required anyone administering a COVID-19 vaccine to obtain the recipient’s informed consent beforehand, authorized the attorney general to enforce this restriction, and required violators to pay damages of at least $5,000. However, the legislation was killed by the House Calendars Committee before a full chamber vote could be taken.

Harrison told Texas Scorecard that these mandates did more harm than good to students, and Texas needs to be leading the fight against “COVID tyranny.”

“If you are advocating mask and vaccine mandates, especially in schools, to fight COVID in 2023, you aren’t following the science, you hate the science. School shutdowns did irreparable harm to students, and we must do all we can to keep schools open,” said Harrison. “Texas should be leading the fight against COVID tyranny, but still allows COVID vaccine mandates. I will continue fighting to ban all COVID mandates in Texas.”

Shortly after this article was published, Garland ISD walked back the requirement in a statement to Texas Scorecard, saying “Should symptoms arise, we highly recommend completing a COVID-19 test as a precautionary measure, although it is not a requirement in GISD.”

Currently, there are calls for a special legislative session dedicated to combating COVID-19 mandates.

Emily Medeiros

Emily graduated from the University of Oklahoma majoring in Journalism. She is excited to use her research and writing skills to report on important issues around Texas.