Representatives from the Houston Federation of Teachers and the Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation joined U.S. Representative Al Green in a press conference at 10:30 a.m.
"The CDC, local and state public health officials, and the entire medical community have made it clear: mask mandates help keep our kids, our co-workers, and our communities safe," the representatives said in a release. "But instead of listening to public health experts, Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Education Agency are playing politics with our children's lives and blocking districts from taking common-sense measures to keep kids safe."
The statement is referring to Abbott's executive order that says "no government entity, including a county, city, school district and public health authority" and "any public or private entity that is receiving or will receive public funds" can enforce mask or vaccine mandates. Offenses could lead to fines up to $1,000. Private businesses, however, still have the right to require customers and employees to wear masks.
Despite the order, school districts across the state have announced newly instated mask mandates, including Austin ISD, Dallas ISD, Spring ISD and more.
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"Given how quickly the delta variant is spreading, every effective tool must be utilized now," Hany Khalil said. "Masking must be required to keep our students and their parents and our school employees safe as school begins this month."
Khalil, one of many speakers Wednesday, is the executive director of the Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation, vice president of the Houston Federation of teachers and a former HISD teacher.
Behind the many speakers who called for mask mandates stood a group of teachers, students and other local leaders, holding signs that read "We demand school safety."
"We believe that all students deserve safe learning environments, and all staff deserve safe working environments," Khalil said. "That means the first duty of school officials is to provide safety, and they must use their authority to do that, regardless of Gov. Abbott's executive order trying to block their ability to keep students and employees safe."
Rep. Green added that Abbott is typically in favor of the federal government not interfering with state governments. He asked Abbott to take the same stand when it comes to districts making decisions for their students.
"We have a duty and a responsibility and an obligation to the future to make sure that we mandate masks," Green said. "A mandate is something that we can demand because if we fail to do so, we are failing the future. We are failing the children. These are babies. They can't make decisions for themselves to protect themselves. It's up to us to protect these babies from the harm that can befall them."
Green said he and his other supporters aren't asking for a statewide mask mandate and are instead demanding for the safety of kids across the state.
"Don't stand in the way of saving lives, governor," Green said. "This is a chance for us to be on the right side of righteousness, not just the right side of history. If we want to be on the right side of righteousness, we have to protect our children."
HISD Superintendent Millard House has proposed a mask mandate for all students, staff and visitors at all schools, buses and facilities. However, the mandate will not become effective until it is approved by the Board of Education. They are expected to vote on the mandate Thursday.
Ahead of Wednesday's press conference, unions representing tens of thousands of teachers and support staff from across the Gulf Coast issued a joint letter to area school district trustees and superintendents calling on them to follow public health guidance and immediately issue mandates.
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