HISD school board approves districtwide mask mandate for 2021-2022 school year

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- When students return to Houston ISD campuses on Aug. 23, they'll be required to wear a mask after the district's board of trustees voted Thursday to approve a mandate.



It comes after superintendent Millard House said last week that he would propose a mask mandate for all students, staff and visitors at all of their schools, buses and facilities at Thursday's board meeting.

The move defies Gov. Greg Abbott's executive order barring government entities in Texas, including counties, cities, school districts, public health authorities, and government officials, from requiring or mandating the use of masks.

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

HISD is the largest public school district in Texas and the seventh-largest in the United States.

Houston ISD joins the list of locally governing entities, along with the City of Houston, Harris County and Fort Bend County, that have challenged the governor's executive order banning mask mandates.

However, for Fort Bend ISD and Stafford MSD, masks are still optional.

In addition, the more-contagious delta variant of COVID is also sparking concerns as younger students appear to be increasingly impacted. This worries some parents since young children aren't eligible to get the vaccine.

House said his decision to bring forward the mandate was personal, citing the safety of his own children.

"I have two students that'll be in HISD, and one of them falls directly in that category. He's too young to receive the vaccine," he said. "My other child is old enough and she's received the vaccine along with my wife and (me). It's not just an organizational decision, it's a personal decision for me as a parent. I'd be lying if I didn't have some worry about what's going on right now."

House said when he arrived in Houston five weeks ago, the community spread rate was at 4%. Now, it's over 16%. Experts said the data shows it's going to get even worse once school starts.

SEE ALSO: Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo issues school mask mandate

President of the Houston Federation of Teachers, Jackie Anderson, believes wearing masks are important to protect everyone and to keep schools open during the surge.

"We're already going backwards, so we don't want to go back to the point where we have to close our schools, because we know our students need to be in schools and teachers know that's the best place for learning to occur," Anderson said. "I know Superintendent (Millard) House said that he's not out to defy the governor, he's out to protect the students and the faculty staff that he's in charge of. I think that's what the other superintendents do as well. I would say that if you're not going to be on board with helping us, then you need to step out of the way, Abbott, and let the people who are trying to protect themselves do that."

SEE ALSO: Students wearing masks at school remains a polarized topic

The office of Christian D. Menefee, the Harris County Attorney, announced on Thursday it filed a lawsuit challenging the governor's executive order and requested the authority to lie with local officials.

Gov. Abbott has asked the Texas Attorney General to block a similar case out of Dallas County.

"It's probably going to go up to the Texas Supreme Court," said Professor Kellen Zale with the University of Houston's Law Center. "Once that happens, then we'll really see what local governments can do and what the governor can do but in the short term, I imagine that other communities, if they are having similar concerns, may see the fact that, so far, three counties have gotten these [temporary restraining orders] against the governor's order and may pursue similar actions of their own."
Copyright © 2021 KTRK-TV. All Rights Reserved.