PHARR, Texas – Concerned for the safety of staff and students, school districts in the Rio Grande Valley look set follow the lead of Austin and Dallas ISDs and defy Gov. Greg Abbott and impose mask mandates ahead of the new school year.

Last month, Abbott issued an executive order prohibiting governmental bodies such as school districts from requiring facial coverings to prevent the spread of Covid-19. It also prohibited governmental bodies from requiring staff get a vaccination.

Dallas ISD and Austin ISD announced Monday they will require masking, while Houston ISD will vote on a mandate this week. They will likely be fined by the Texas Education Agency for doing so.

Meanwhile, the Southern Center for Child Advocacy, a nonprofit education group, filed a lawsuit Sunday against Abbott and his executive order prohibiting school districts from requiring masks.

On Monday, the school board of Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD approved a resolution requesting Abbott to allow the district to make local decisions regarding Covid-19.

“The resolution reiterates the declaration of emergency by Hidalgo County regarding the potential spread of COVID-19 in the area and specifies that COVID-19 and its variants are an unforeseen and unavoidable emergency of urgent public necessity, which requires district officials to make decisions quickly to ensure the safety of its students and employees,” a news release from PSJA states.

The PSJA trustees argue that having the ability to mandate masks, if the local data requires it, would further the ultimate goal of providing in-person instruction in a safe and effective manner.

“Based on the current circumstances in Hidalgo County and in the school district…face coverings should be mandatory in the school district’s buildings to be able to provide in-person school instruction in a safe and effective manner,” the PSJA resolution states.

The PSJA School Board requests for Governor Abbott to:

1. Recognize that local school boards have the exclusive authority to determine whether face coverings should be required to ensure the safety of students and staff; and

2. Give Commissioner of Education the authority to allow funding for virtual instruction, in the event that local school boards determine that their school districts need to provide virtual instruction to students who cannot receive in-person instruction as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We thank the support and unity of our PSJA School Board and entire community to send this strong message, as we continue to work on keeping our students safe,” said PSJA Superintendent Dr. Jorge L. Arredondo (pictured above).

Meanwhile, Brownsville ISD could take Abbott to court over his executive order prohibiting mask mandates in schools.

On Monday, the Brownsville Herald reported that the BISD Board of Trustees posted a special meeting for Thursday to consider authorizing legal counsel Kevin O’Hanlon to file a lawsuit against Abbott, the state of Texas and other related parties “to allow the district to make local decisions regarding the health and safety of its students and employees.”

Trustees also will consider a resolution concerning “the necessity that the school board be able to make local decisions regarding the health and safety of its students, the newspaper reported.

Most Valley school districts will start their Fall semester on Aug. 17.

Texas currently falls below the national average for full Covid vaccinations. The national average is 50 percent. Texas averages 44 percent. On Monday, Abbott acknowledged the surge in the delta variant of Covid by calling for nurses from other states to come to Texas. He also asked Texas hospitals to cut down on non-emergency procedures to free up beds for Covid patients.

Criticism of Abbott’s executive order prohibiting mask mandates is growing. “The governor has shown a callous disregard for life and safety in defiance of clear medical guidance and is risking the safety of our children and the recovery of our economy,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg of San Antonio said. And on Monday, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins went to court to block Abbott’s executive order profiting mask mandates.

On July 29, Abbott issued Executive Order GA-38. His office said the order combined several existing COVID-19 executive orders to “promote statewide uniformity and certainty in the state’s COVID-19 response.”

Abbott said: “Today’s executive order will provide clarity and uniformity in the Lone Star State’s continued fight against COVID-19. The new Executive Order emphasizes that the path forward relies on personal responsibility rather than government mandates. Texans have mastered the safe practices that help to prevent and avoid the spread of COVID-19. They have the individual right and responsibility to decide for themselves and their children whether they will wear masks, open their businesses, and engage in leisure activities. Vaccines, which remain in abundant supply, are the most effective defense against the virus, and they will always remain voluntary – never forced – in the State of Texas.”

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows PSJA ISD Superintendent Jorge L. Arredondo. The image predates Gov. Abbott’s executive order prohibiting mask mandates in school districts.

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