Mask Mandates and the Legality Behind Them
On March 10, 2021, Gov. Abbott overturned the Executive order GA-34 to ensure that
“[no] person may be required by any jurisdiction to wear or to mandate the wearing of a face
covering.” This order fully went into effect a month prior to the 2021-22 school year. With
schools no longer being allowed to enforce mandatory masks, there have been a plethora of
concerns across the entire state of Texas. As a result, some Independent School Districts such as those in Austin, San Antonio and Dallas have outright opposed the state law. Additionally, there are those that have legally found a way to ensure students continue wearing their masks, such as Paris ISD including them in their dress code.
Not all districts are finding legal loopholes. In fact, VISD’s own superintendent, Dr. Quintin
Shepherd, stated in an interview published August 13 regarding back to school procedures that masks are “strongly encouraged,” but Victoria cannot merely decide when it wishes to “trump the order of the Governor.”
Continuing along this line of thought is West’s mathematics teacher, Patricia Cruz.
“I believe that, as an entity of Victoria ISD, they have to make a choice that is going to
suit the majority. If it has not changed as a mandate from the governor, then there are rules; rules should be followed… That doesn’t keep an individual from wearing it, so personally, I choose to wear mine.”
Similar to how Cruz chooses to wear her mask, there are many students across campus
who have chosen safety first. “A lot of our students are wearing their masks, so as of right now I guess we just have to wait and see what’s going to happen. I’ve noticed that a lot of the students are taking it upon themselves to wear their masks which is great, I know they’re keeping themselves safe as well as their friends that they sit next to. And I noticed that a lot of my kids sanitize, like when they share materials, hopefully by practicing all this cleanliness, they will all stay healthy,” AP science instructor Stacie Salinas commented.
As stated by Salinas, students are taking necessary precautions to ensure theirs and others
safety. Whether that is by using hand sanitizer in between classes, wearing their masks
throughout the day or maintaining social distancing when not vaccinated, West students are still careful about the spread of COVID-19.
“As far as masks in the schools go, it’s better to err on the side of caution. I’m not
vaccinated, so I have been wearing my mask every day. I don’t think that people that don’t wear a mask are irresponsible. I think that if you are vaccinated, feel free not to. It’s really a personal decision,” junior Fiona Fitzgerald remarked.
There are plenty of West students who selectively choose when they wear a mask,
whether it be in crowded hallways or in the bustling cafeteria. On the other hand, there are those who completely forgo wearing facial coverings, either due to the fact that they are vaccinated or they are simply not worried about the steady rate of COVID-19 cases. This has unfortunately resulted in VISD having over 600 positive cases with over 100 involving staff members.
In a letter released by Dr. Shepherd on Sept. 1, he states, “We are at our breaking point at
Victoria ISD due to the rapid spread of COVID. We are facing a shutdown of several campuses due to a lack of staff to supervise students. The quality of education and safety of the environment we can provide students becomes further compromised with every passing day. The people most impacted by decisions should have a say in those decisions.”
The VISD superintendent continues on to explain the current options being considered to
lessen the impact COVID-19 is having on Victoria’s schools.
“Choice 1: Choosing to wear a mask is hard. I get it. It’s not fun. I don’t want to wear a
mask. But, if we make this choice for four weeks, we may be able to decrease our cases and
possibly keep schools open by reducing the spread. If it does not work, at least we can all say we did what was within our control to try and keep our campuses open,” Shepherd explained.
The other choice Dr. Shepherd listed was that of simply not wearing a mask. He
elaborated and explained that it would likely result in campuses closing. To make up for the lost time, schools must either continue teaching into the summer or reduce holiday breaks. As
expected, few people are pleased with the idea of shorter breaks or a seemingly longer school year.
While a good portion of students and staff have been wearing their masks since the
schools opened for the 2021-22 school year, there are even more masks being seen around
campuses following Shepherd’s recent letter. So, whether you are vaccinated or not, it would be beneficial if everyone wore their masks so we can have a semi-normal school year.