Austin ISD superintendent pens TIME Magazine plea for masks in Texas schools despite Abbott ban

Politics

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin Independent School District Superintendent Dr. Stephanie Elizalde is making a national plea on behalf of Texas school districts: masks should be required in the new school year.

Elizalde, who was hired as Austin ISD superintendent last year, penned a Sunday article published nationally in TIME Magazine, where she laid out the reasoning behind her decision to mandate masks in the district, despite Gov. Greg Abbott’s ban on requiring masks in public schools.

In her TIME piece, titled “Why I’m Mandating That Austin Schools Must Be Masked When Classes Start,” she said that the move is not a political statement, but is purely about the safety of the nearly 75,000 students returning for classes on Tuesday.

Elizalde writes in part:

“What if a child dies on my watch? How do I say to you, “I’m really sorry. We did everything we could except for masking because the governor’s executive order prohibited me from doing so.” What does that do for a parent? How does that bring them comfort or solace?”

Dr. Stephanie Elizalde, TIME Magazine

The superintendent further explained her controversial decision in a Monday interview with KXAN Today anchor Tom Miller.

TM: What motivated you to ultimately make the call and say you were going to require masks at schools — even after the governor had already said mask mandates wouldn’t be allowed and before the city came out and backed that decision?

SE: It’s tough for everyone, it’s tough for our parents, it’s tough for our staff, it’s tough for us superintendents and leaders. Ultimately, it was the local data conditions in our hospitals, and the number of rising cases that put us in a situation where I felt like I had to change course. Keep in mind, the temporary masking is not the only thing we have in place. So this was just necessary, at least during the period of time that we’re in Stage 5.

TM: What are you going to do if the Texas Supreme Court sides with Governor Abbott and your mask mandate is deemed illegal?

SE: When we get to the point that there is no doubt that [we can’t] appeal our position during this period of time, we will abide by the law. At this point, we have a slight difference in opinion about whether the governor’s orders actually apply to independent school districts.

Elizalde says that while the 2021-22 virtual learning format for students is still being tinkered with, the focus of the year will be to get students back up to speed after the challenging previous virtual semesters.

Elizalde adds: “The goal here is for us not to have masks and not to be in conflict with the governor’s order.”

Back-to-school battle in Texas

Several other big Texas districts that will require masks in the new school year — at least for now — include Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio and Houston ISDs.

On Monday, several parents and children rallied outside Abbott’s mansion in downtown Austin to demand he allow school districts the right to mandate masks.

The protest comes after weeks of back-and-forth between cities, school districts, Abbott, courts, and now, the Texas Supreme Court. On Sunday, the court granted orders to temporarily block local mask mandates issued in San Antonio and Dallas.

Nevertheless, Dallas ISD said masks would still be required.

In response to the temporary Supreme Court decision, Abbott took to Twitter, where he said: “The ban doesn’t prohibit using masks. Anyone who wants to wear a mask can do so, including in schools.”

As more and more Texas schools open their doors for in-person learning, the fight over masking in schools persists, with little end in sight.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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