Texas Education Agency says local school boards can decide mask policy

Governor Abbott issued Executive Order GA-34 on March 2, 2021, that addresses the statewide wearing of face coverings (i.e., masks). The lifting of the mandate officially takes effect on March 10, 2021. However, the authority of the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to implement operational requirements for public schools remains in effect. 

As a result of the lifting of the order on masks, TEA has updated its Public Health Guidance.

“Under this updated guidance, a public school system’s current practices on masks may continue unchanged. Local school boards have full authority to determine their local mask policy,” according to a statement from TEA on Wednesday. “TEA has also made updates related to surface cleaning requirements.”

Additionally, the Department of State Health Services announced today that educators and school support staff are eligible for vaccines effective immediately. There are no costs for the vaccines and school employees will not have any out-of-pocket expenses.

As people are still reluctant to receive the new COVID-19 vaccine, TEA says that vaccinations will not be required for now.

“The current COVID-19 vaccination process will be voluntary and left up to each individual to determine if it is the right course of action for that individual to take,” TEA says. “The current COVID-19 vaccines were authorized under the Emergency Use Authorization; therefore vaccination cannot be required by employers. Once a vaccine is formally approved by the FDA, employers may choose to require employees to obtain that vaccine.”

Vaccination sites will not be set up within schools at this time, according to TEA.

“The COVID-19 vaccine will be distributed to qualifying facilities, organizations or healthcare providers licensed to possess or administer vaccine or provide vaccination services who will administer these vaccines. At this point, schools have not been identified as vaccine administration sites, and school staff are not responsible for administering vaccines,” the statement continues.

Bluebonnet News asked Liberty County school district superintendents on Tuesday how Abbott’s lifting of the mask mandate will impact their districts. All said they plan to adhere to whatever guidelines were handed down by TEA. The general consensus is that masks will continue to be worn by students and staff. Their responses to Bluebonnet News were prior to TEA’s announcement on Wednesday.

Tarkington ISD Superintendent Dr. Marc Keith expressed frustration that Abbott did not address the COVID-19 vaccine for educators during his press conference on Tuesday.

“Governor Abbott’s failure to prioritize the COVID-19 vaccine for public school teachers and staff is a danger affront to these front-line responders,” he said.

Dayton ISD Superintendent Dr. Jessica Johnson added that Dayton will continue to operate under its current COVID-19 safety protocols and guidelines until next Wednesday, March 10.

“We will release new information as we receive guidance from the Texas Education Agency later this week. Thank you for your continued patience, support, and understanding as safety is always one of our top priorities,” Johnson said.

Hull-Daisetta ISD Superintendent Tim Bartram, Liberty ISD Superintendent Dr. Cody Abshier and Hardin ISD Superintendent Scott Mackey said that safety protocols in place within their districts will continue for now and advise that any changes to these protocols will be announced to stakeholders in their respective communities.

Cleveland ISD posted a similar message to its Facebook page.

“Cleveland ISD Administration will make a decision concerning the mask order and announce that conclusion before we release for spring break. As always, the health and safety of our students and staff are of the utmost importance, and decisions will be made with that in mind,” the statement reads.

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