UPDATED on 8/31/21 at 11:15 am to include clips from the House Public Education Committee hearing.
On Monday evening, the House Public Education Committee considered two different bills relating to mask mandates in public schools.
Before laying out the bills, the committee’s chairman, State Rep. Harold Dutton Jr. (D–Houston), announced that both he and State Rep. Jeff Leach (R–Allen), the author of one of the bills being considered, had come to an agreement that they believed the decision regarding mask mandates is best left up to individual school districts as long as the mandate includes a parental “opt out” provision for the reasons of conscience, religious, or philosophical beliefs.
Leach very briefly introduced his bill as filed, alluding to changes that he would work on with Dutton after the conclusion of the committee hearing, which included allowing school districts to mandate masks as long as they also include a parental “opt out” provision as a part of the mandate.
As filed, Leach’s bill would have simply prohibited mask mandates by public schools.
Dutton’s bill allows school districts to mandate masks for public school children that are 12 years of age and younger.
What Does it All Mean?
With less than one week left in the ongoing second called special legislative session, it is unclear whether any of the two bills considered this evening will pass out of committee in time, let alone make it through the entirety of the legislative process.
Notably, no bill related to mask mandates has been considered in the Senate.
In July, Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order that consolidated several of his previous orders. Included was a prohibition on mask mandates in public schools. When he announced the ongoing special session agenda, Abbott also included a request that the Legislature consider “legislation providing strategies for public-school education in prekindergarten through twelfth grade during the COVID-19 pandemic, which ensures: the wearing of face coverings is not mandatory.”
As the fall semester of public schools commenced state over the last month, a growing list of school districts openly defied Abbott’s executive order, causing a patchwork of confusing policy approaches for parents of public school students and a deluge of litigation.