El Paso Schools Will Require Students to Wear Masks, District Follows Dallas in Defying Texas Governor’s Ban on Coverings

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The El Paso and Socorro school boards have unanimously decided to adhere to the county health authority’s mandate regarding wearing masks indoors. The Board of Trustees for the El Paso Independent School District (EPISD) voted 6-1 in favor of following Dr. Hector Ocaranza’s health order, which requires individuals aged 2 and above to wear face coverings in most indoor settings, including schools. The EPISD will implement the mask requirement in their buses and schools starting on Thursday.

In addition to the mask mandate, the EPISD board also approved a motion to join a pending lawsuit, along with La Joya Independent School District and others, challenging Governor Greg Abbott’s ban on local mask mandates. The only dissenting vote on this motion came from Trustee Daniel Call.

The El Paso City Council has voted 5-3 to file a lawsuit against Governor Abbott to protect Dr. Ocaranza’s mask mandate. County Court-at-Law No. 7 Judge Ruben Morales subsequently issued a temporary restraining order, stating that Abbott’s executive order prohibiting mask mandates exceeds his authority. However, the Texas Supreme Court has ruled that Abbott’s statewide order can remain in effect in Bexar and Dallas counties, pending further proceedings.

Trustee Call cited the ongoing litigation before the state’s highest court as a factor in his decision. He expressed doubt about the sustainability of a mask mandate under scrutiny by the Texas Supreme Court, asserting that he believes a school district should not engage in judicial activism.

Conversely, Trustee Israel Irrobali argued for local control, highlighting the need for decisions to be made at the local level rather than by lawmakers situated far away from the El Paso community.

Following a closed-door briefing from their attorney, the Socorro Independent School Board of Trustees voted unanimously to comply with Dr. Ocaranza’s mask mandate, with the condition that it would be nullified by a court ruling. The mandate takes effect at 12:01 a.m. on Wednesday.

Both school boards heard extensive public testimony from a divided group of constituents, including parents advocating for increased protection for students in light of rising cases of the delta variant of COVID-19, as well as others who believe that masks have negative effects on the mental and physical well-being of their children.

These votes represent a challenge to Governor Abbott’s executive order, which revoked the authority of local governments and school boards to make decisions regarding mask mandates. While some large districts, such as the Dallas Independent School District and the Austin Independent School District, have implemented mask mandates, smaller districts in rural areas have followed suit.

Originally published on El Paso Matters.


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