As local government officials around the state defy Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s ban on mask mandates, setting off a flurry of lawsuits and countersuits, Texans are wondering who’s in charge, what rules apply, and why they aren’t free to choose what’s best for themselves and their families.
Abbott’s Executive Order GA-38 (his 31st COVID-related order since declaring the Chinese coronavirus a public health disaster in March 2020) prohibits most government officials and entities from mandating face coverings.
Yet a rise in new COVID cases as children are going back to school prompted dozens of counties, cities, and school districts to ignore Abbott and issue orders of their own requiring masks in government offices, schools, and local businesses.
Parents of public school students have been some of the most vocal critics of the new mask mandates, which they say are harmful to kids and violate parental choice.
In fact, four Fort Worth ISD parents filed a lawsuit against their school district’s latest “irrational” face-covering rule, succeeding in temporarily blocking the masking order.
One parent-plaintiff said in the suit that the school’s mask policy “hurt both of my children last school year in so many ways,” including poor school performance, trouble breathing, lethargy, and fear of social stigma among peers.
Another plaintiff shared her three kids’ experiences after being forced by FWISD to mask up last year. She said her older sons felt “isolated,” were “bullied to the point of tears,” and struggled to keep their grades up. Her youngest son, who is asthmatic, had trouble breathing when wearing a mask.
“I was also concerned that the staff would not notice if he was struggling to breathe when wearing a mask because of the mask covering up his lips,” she said.
“All children deserve a public free education in the least restrictive environment. Masking them for eight hours is not conducive to learning or breathing,” said Dallas resident Lynn Davenport, a frequent advocate for parents and students.
Davenport organized a peaceful protest Tuesday against Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins’ latest attempt at forced masking, to “send a clear message to tiny tyrants across Texas that we will not mask our children.”
“These politicians are drunk with power and must be exposed,” she said. “We will not stop protecting our children and families.”
“Texas schools are independent school districts, which begs the question: independent of who?” added Linda Rice. Her grandkids are students in a district in Harris County, which has directly violated Abbott’s order by mandating masks in all schools within the county.
But one North Texas mom says Abbott’s executive orders are the problem.
“What happens if Abbott issues another mask mandate or some other mandate or [executive order] in the name of health and safety?” asked Serena Ashcroft, a McKinney ISD parent who filed a petition in January to stop the mask mandate her district had imposed last school year.
Even though it’s not constitutional or could harm others, the judges will once again favor Abbott. We have a governor who is dictating and acting like a king, and now Jenkins feels like he can do that also.
“This entire disaster act is, in and of itself, a disaster for Texas, and nobody is stopping Abbott,” she added.
School mask mandates affect teachers and staff as well as students.
“My husband is a teacher in an elementary school with a medical condition that makes it too hard to safely wear a mask. Now his job is threatened,” a Denton resident told Texas Scorecard. “What relief is there for school employees?”
Another Scorecard subscriber said a San Antonio middle school principal told her they intended to separate masked and unmasked students, at the direction of North East ISD.
“The unmasked will be put in an outdoor setting and not allowed to participate in the first day of school,” she said. “It’s truly heartbreaking.”
Public opposition to forced masking isn’t limited to schools.
“Any government is overstepping with the mask mandate,” Tiffany Connealy commented online. “I don’t care if it’s local, state, or federal. It’s overreach at any level.”
Texas lawmakers chose not to address mask mandates in the regular legislative session and failed to curtail the governor’s unilateral disaster powers.
Abbott and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton have filed a petition to defend the mask mandate ban and said that “any school district, public university, or local government official that decides to defy the order will be taken to court.”
Paxton also asked Texans whose local governments are imposing a mask mandate to contact his office at firstname.lastname@example.org.