Texas school district makes masks part of dress code to get around Gov. Abbott's order

Several school districts in Texas have sought to require masks amid an increase in Covid-19 cases. Gov. Greg Abbott has tried to ban mask mandates
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Posted at 7:37 AM, Aug 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-18 08:37:38-04

(NBC News) - A small Texas school district has made facial coverings part of its dress code, in a bid to get around Gov. Greg Abbott's executive order banning mask mandates.

The board of the Paris Independent School District, which has about 4,000 students, said in a statement Tuesday that the governor's order does not usurp its ability to manage schools.

"The Board believes the dress code can be used to mitigate communicable health issues, and therefore has amended the PISD dress code to protect our students and employees," the district said.

The measure — which read "For health reasons, masks are required for all employees and students to mitigate flu, cold, pandemic, and any other communicable diseases" — will be revisited at every monthly trustee meeting and could be changed later, The Paris News newspaper reported.

The vote was 5-1 to alter the dress code in the district, which will welcome back students on Thursday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended last month thatall students in kindergarten through 12th grade wear masks when they return to classrooms, even those who have already been vaccinated.

The vote came the same day that Abbott's office announced that the governor had tested positive for Covid-19. Abbott is fully vaccinated, his office said.

The move from the school district based in the northeast Texas town of Paris comes as some districts in the state are attempting to require masks amid a Covid-19 surge and despite the governor's order.

Driven by the more transmissible delta variant, Texas has seen an increase in Covid-19 cases that has raised alarms. The state has requested five mortuary trailersfrom the federal government to store bodies. Abbott has also asked hospitals to delay some procedures to free up beds for coronavirus patients.

Abbott, a Republican, has fought mask mandates and issued an executive order to bar local officials from imposing them. Some school districts did so anyway.

Abbott's executive order is being challenged in court. A disability rights group filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday.

Disability Rights Texas says some students with disabilities have conditions that put them at greater risk of Covid-19 and prohibiting safety measures is a barrier to education because those students require in-person instruction and the spread of the delta variant could derail those plans.

On Sunday, the Texas Supreme Court blocked mask rulesin Dallas and Bexar counties. The high court's orders are temporary pending a court hearing.

Abbott has sought to portray his stance as protecting the freedoms of Texans. "The path forward relies on personal responsibility — not government mandates," the governor said earlier this month.

Some other Republican governors or legislatures across the United States have also banned or sought to ban mask requirements.