As Texans across the state continue to navigate the confusing fight over controversial school mask mandates, Gov. Greg Abbott has suddenly gone silent on the issue.
On Tuesday, Abbott announced he is reconvening the state Legislature later this month for a third special session to consider and approve his priority items into law. During a special session, which can last up to 30 days, the Legislature can only consider the governor’s to-do list. For the upcoming special session beginning on September 20, Abbott has deemed a handful of items—such as dog tethering—as the most important.
Notably absent from Abbott’s list, however, is the mask mandate issue.
The fight over forcing kids to wear face coverings in school began last year, when Abbott decreed executive orders closing businesses and imposing mask mandates across the state in response to the Chinese coronavirus. However, in May and again in July, he issued new orders canceling his mask mandate and decreeing that local government officials—including school districts— are now not allowed to force masks on citizens.
However, last month, local officials across Texas began disregarding Abbott’s orders and re-imposing their own local mask requirements. In particular, a growing wave of school district officials began enforcing the old mask mandates on students, despite contrary health data and experts warning against forcibly masking children (with organizations such as the Irish Health Authority even calling it “child abuse”).
The feud between Abbott and local officials led to ongoing court battles, leaving Texans confused and guessing about the authority and effects of their various officials’ decrees.
In August, Abbott added the issue to the Legislature’s second summer session, requesting “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.” However, the Republican-controlled state Legislature chose not to deal with the issue.
Furthermore, lawmakers could have clarified this whole problem months ago during their regular session by enacting a state law to stop mask mandates. Instead, they declined to act.
Now, as students return to classrooms and potentially face harmful all-day masking, it seems that neither the state Legislature nor the governor are preparing to deal with the issue.
After Abbott’s announcement this week, one of his Republican primary challengers, candidate and former state Senator Don Huffines, released his own special session priority list he would use if he were governor. Huffines’ list included “prohibiting local governments, including public colleges and universities, from imposing mask mandates or requiring COVID tests.”