Schools throughout the state will be opening their doors in the next few days. Despite the current surge in COVID-19, especially the Delta variant that appears to affect children more than the original strain of the coronavirus, Gov. Greg Abbott has issued an order banning schools from requiring students and staff to wear masks and take other precautions.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that schools impose such requirements, and officials including President Joe Biden have specifically criticized Texas officials for preventing public schools from taking such precautions. The governor has ordered that all students must return to class — most families with valid concerns about the risks of catching the virus at school won’t have the option of taking remote classes, although the Texas Education Agency will allow remote learning for students who actually catch the disease.
The new rise in COVIC-19 cases has led to a new rise in parents saying they don’t want to send their children to school, and teachers saying they don’t want to go to work. This makes Abbott’s mandates regarding school attendance and virus protection unreasonable.
At the same time, people should remember that they are free to take their own precautions. Schools might be prevented from making classmates wear masks, but every student can choose to wear one and should be encouraged to do so.
In addition to federal officials, teachers associations, school boards and other officials and state residents have voiced their opposition to the governor’s prohibition. Some, including Houston school district, which is the state’s largest, have suggested that they might consider defying the order.
Abbott has said that if they do, they won’t receive state funding for the school year. That essentially is the limit of what he can do, although Attorney General Ken Paxton has shown a penchant for filing lawsuits against any agency that runs counter to state officials’ wishes.
This leaves the matter largely in the hands of families themselves. While school attendance is compulsory, the governor can’t physically force every family to send their children to class if they fear the health risks involved. Likewise, no one can prevent families from choosing to give their children masks to wear in class, or teachers from wearing them. In fact, the CDC points this out and encourages families to make their own decisions regarding their personal safety.
Abbott also has waived contract tracing requirements with regard to COVID-19. Schools normally are expected to inform parents of disease outbreaks and other health issues on campus, but they don’t have to make public any information regarding how many students and employees, if any, are carrying the disease. We trust, however, that school officials recognize the value of releasing such information, and do so on their own.
The risks of COVID-19 are well documented. If all people and families take responsibility for their own safety and take whatever precautions they deem necessary, it shouldn’t matter whether masks are required, or if such requirements are prohibited.