School districts at the epicenter of a summer surge in coronavirus cases are ordering students and staff to wear masks to stem the pandemic’s spread, in open defiance of Republican governors who have attempted to bar them from imposing new restrictions.
As the school year gets underway, school districts in Florida, Texas, Oklahoma and Arizona are ordering students and staff to wear masks to stem the pandemic’s spread, in open defiance of Republican governors who have attempted to bar them from imposing new restrictions.
Governors in nine states, all controlled by Republicans, have tried to bar the new requirements. However, as reported by The Hill, the chief administrators in many of those districts say the mandates are necessary to avoid a repeat of last year’s disastrous start to the school season, when thousands of American schools closed and millions of children stayed home.
The war between educators and politicians over masks has set local school boards up against GOP governors who have imposed statewide controls at the expense of local autonomy. It has also created an air of uncertainty and angst as courts weigh in.
“They’re trying to take every step they can to reopen their school building so that students get back to an experience where they can be together, so they can have a more traditional school day, but also they’re taking every precaution to keep their students safe,” Chip Slaven, interim executive director of the National School Boards Association, said of local officials, according to The Hill. “They’re being responsible decision-makers as elected officials representing their communities and their schools.”
At least 13 school districts in Arizona have imposed mask mandates in defiance of a state law signed by Gov. Doug Ducey (R) earlier this year. A state judge there ruled Monday in favor of one of those districts, the Phoenix Union High School District, allowing it to continue a mask mandate until Sept. 29, when the law Ducey signed takes effect.
In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has threatened to withhold funding from school districts that impose mask requirements.
Florida has recorded 138 new cases per 100,000 residents over the last week, a whopping 29,711 per day, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 15,000 Floridians are being treated in hospitals.
The Hill also reported that “Arkansas, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas, which have all banned local mandates, are all among the latest hot spots — though so are Louisiana and Kentucky, two states that still require masks in schools.”
“We believe that we have a constitutional obligation to protect the lives of our students and staff,” Rosalind Osgood, the chairwoman of the Broward County School Board in Florida, said on CBS’s Face the Nation. “We’ve received, you know, threats from our governor. And it’s been really, really dramatic and horrible to be put in this position.”
The Texas Supreme Court on Sunday issued a temporary ruling barring mask mandates issued by local officials in Dallas, Austin and San Antonio, upholding an order issued by Gov. Greg Abbott (R). The ruling came days after Houston’s school board voted unanimously last week to impose a mask mandate when school returns to session later this month.
The new threat of the delta variant, which appears to strike children more than earlier strains of the coronavirus, raises the potential that yet another school year could be disrupted. Already, some schools in Georgia, Mississippi, Indiana, Nevada and New Mexico have returned to virtual learning, a threat that looms over every other district in the nation.
“We all agree that we would like to have the option to go to your public school building and attend classes,” Slaven said. “The reality is if you are responsible for protecting the students and teachers and staff that go into a school building as well as their families, you have to do what you have to do.”
The Biden administration has sided with school districts over the Republican governors who have issued the bans. Over the weekend, President Biden called Chad Gestson, the superintendent of the Phoenix Union High School District, and Vickie Cartwright, the interim superintendent of Broward County Public Schools, to offer support.