A Zoom interview with PSJA ISD Superintendent Jorge L. Arredondo:
PHARR, Texas – Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD is getting full support from the community for its efforts to ensure the health and safety of its students ahead of the new school year, its superintendent says.
Jorge L. Arredondo says that support extends to a resolution passed Monday evening by the school’s board of trustees. The resolution calls on Gov. Greg 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.
Late 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.
Arredondo (pictured above) gave an in-depth interview to the Rio Grande Guardian via a Zoom conversation on Tuesday. The conversation focused on the need for school districts to be allowed to have local control when it comes to the issuing of a mask mandate.
“We are educating our community on how important it is to be wearing a mask. We know that the wearing of masks will reduce the amount of spreading (of Covid-19),” Arredondo said.
“The numbers are increasing at a very alarming rate,” Arredondo said, referring to the hospitalization rate in Hidalgo County. “We are very concerned down here. We have seen the numbers go over the threshold of 15 percent here in Hidalgo County and in the region.”
Arredondo said that in the last school year, PSJA was able to offer virtual learning. He said under a new ruling by the Texas Education Agency, that option is only available for up to ten days – for those students have tested positive for Covid.
Referencing the mask mandate resolution passed Monday evening by the PSJA board of trustees, Arredondo said:
“We want to send a strong message to the Governor that we want to be able to make these decisions here locally. The numbers are very different throughout the state. Particularly down here, there is a big fear in the community, we have multiple generations of families that live together.”
Arredondo said one of the PSJA trustees received strong support on social media – in English and Spanish – when he explained the rationale for the board of trustees’ resolution. “The community overwhelming supports this resolution,” Arredondo said.
Brownsville ISD is considering taking legal action to ensure it has local control over the issuing of a mask mandate. Arredondo said PSJA does not want to go down the litigation avenue just yet.
“What we are requesting from the governor is to have that authority (to issued a mask mandate). We do not want to get into a legal dispute with the governor. We have the utmost respect for his authority as the governor and those that are making the decisions. This is more an opportunity to have a discourse. To have those open lines of communications to make this request.”
Arredondo said if PSJA does not get the authority to issue a mask mandate its leadership will try to educate parents on the importance of students wearing a facial covering at school.
“If we are not granted that authority to mandate it, then we will begin using education as a means to achieve this goal of ensuring that individuals are wearing masks at our campuses, particularly as they are indoors. We would like to get that authority,” he said.
Arredondo also spoke about school superintendents from across the Valley holding a joint news conference on the issue of mask mandates. He said such a news conference would send a “strong message” of unity.
“This is just the beginning. We want to make sure that we are being heard,” Arredondo said.
Some of the biggest school districts in Texas have already taken matters into their own hands. They have ignored Gov. Abbot’s executive order prohibiting a mask mandate and issued a mandate anyway.
“We are in support of those in Houston and in Dallas and Austin. We know those ISDs have taken a very strong step as well in letting the governor know they would like to have this same local control,” Arredondo said.
Arredondo did not rule out litigation in the future in order to wrestle back local control.
“Here at Pharr-San Juan-Alamo we are making those steps to go in that direction but we are doing it as respectfully as we can – so that we can continue to be heard and have that line of communication and give the Governor an opportunity to be able to allow us to do what is right to keep our community safe,” Arredondo said.
Arredondo said Covid-19 was “spreading aggressively” again.
“As leaders we can no longer wait to see what decisions are going to be made by the governor. We are ensuring that this communication is open and we can receive that type of affirmation to continue to make the right decisions for our community.”
Arredondo added: “We need to continue to wear the face coverings and continue to follow all the safety guidelines that are being put out through the CDC and through the health departments in our community.”
CDC stands for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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