Gov. Abbott's office says there's 'no loophole' after Texas City ISD adds masks to dress code

TEXAS CITY, Texas (KTRK) -- With a handful of school districts, including Texas City ISD, adjusting their dress codes to add masks on campuses, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's office insists there is no legal loophole to work around an executive order banning mandates for face coverings in the classroom.

On Thursday, Ranae Eze, the governor's press secretary, offered a statement on Abbott's position regarding the adjusted policies while also reminding a key stipulation in the governor's order. He states:

"We are all working to protect Texas children and those most vulnerable among us, but violating the Governor's executive orders-and violating parental rights-is not the way to do it. Governor Abbott has been clear that the time for mask mandates is over; now is the time for personal responsibility. Under Executive Order GA-38, no governmental entity or school district can require or mandate the wearing of masks. There is no loophole. While a school district cannot mandate or prohibit masks, parents and guardians have the right to decide whether their child will wear a mask or not. The best defense against this virus is the COVID vaccines, and we continue to strongly encourage all eligible Texans to get vaccinated."

SEE ALSO: Gov. Abbott's office repeats 'personal responsibility' message after larger counties challenge order

Hours after Abbott's camp weighed in, Texas City ISD offered a rebuttal, agreeing with the sentiment over vaccinations but reminded that many of its students are still not eligible to be vaccinated. The district said:

Texas City ISD agrees that vaccinations are a great defense against COVID-19. However, all of our students aged 11 and under are not eligible to receive the vaccine, which means that 8 of our schools have 0 percent of students vaccinated. Therefore, the district stands by our decision that masking is the preventative measure that we can take to give our staff and students the best chance of not contracting COVID-19.

A day before these statements were issued, Eyewitness News explored Texas City ISD as it instituted and enforced the dress code, which stipulates that students and staff are required to wear masks on district campuses and in buildings.

The district isn't calling this a mask mandate, but a dress code requirement that equates to going to school with an appropriate haircut or skirt length.

SEE ALSO: Some Houston-area school districts defying Gov. Abbott's COVID orders

"This truly was about ensuring the safest environment," said Texas City ISD Superintendent Dr. Melissa Duarte.

John Rataino was supposed to start his 8th grade year at Blocker Middle School on Wednesday, but went home when he refused to wear a mask.

SEE ALSO: Major Texas city reverts to COVID guidelines with rise in cases

"I don't like to wear a mask," said John. "They were handing out masks and I said 'No, thank you.'"

John's mother, Rachel Rataino, proceeded to pick him up from school and she applauds his conviction.

"I think it should be up to the individual to choose whether to wear a mask," said Rachel. "Kids already have so many things forced upon them through the school district."

The decision to add masks to the school's dress code came the night before Texas City started its first day of school. A small group of protestors gathered outside the district's headquarters Wednesday afternoon to voice their displeasure.

"Masks are child abuse," shouted one protestor.

Duarte stated she expected a mixed reaction, but said the decision ultimately came down to school safety.

"I understand people want to make choices for themselves and I empathize with those families," she said. "But we also have a responsibility as a district to take care of our children when they are in our care."

It is unknown whether or not the district's decision to add masks to the dress code, as opposed to issuing a straight mask mandate, will result in some of the legal battles unfolding in Dallas, Bexar, and Harris counties.

Texas City ISD said it's prepared to fight if that situation arises.

"The board believes that whatever we have to deal with legally is more important than putting any child or employee in harm's way," said Duarte.
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