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San Antonio school district mandates masks, opposes Abbott's order

San Antonio school district mandates masks, opposes Abbott's order
At least three school districts in Texas have announced school closures as districts issue mask mandates in defiance of Gov. Greg Abbott's executive order. Photo by Ian Halperin/UPI | License Photo

Aug. 17 (UPI) -- The San Antonio Independent School District has issued a mask mandate for all staff and students, becoming the latest to rebuff Gov. Gregg Abbott's executive order prohibiting local authorities from mandating face coverings amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Pedro Martinez, the superintendent for the district that covers downtown San Antonio, informed residents of the mask mandate in a letter on Monday, stating it will "enforce stability in our classrooms, minimize disruption to your child's academics and lessen hardship on families whose children are affected by quarantines for up to 14 days, or worse, illness."

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In a separate letter, Martinez informed teachers and staff that they have until Oct. 15 to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, becoming what is believed to be the first major Texas district to enforce mandatory vaccinations.

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"We strongly believe that the best path forward as a school district is to require all staff to become vaccinated against COVID-19," Martinez said, noting that 90% have already been inoculated against the virus.

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"The time is now," Martinez said. "This is a profound moment where we can choose to lead by example."

By announcing its mask mandate, San Antonio joined several others, including Dallas and Bexar counties, in openly rejecting the Republican governor's executive order that prohibits local government entities from requiring or mandating mask wearing on the grounds that "Texans, not government, should decide their best health practices."

It also prohibits governmental entities from mandating vaccines.

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The announcement of the new health mandates came following a weekend of litigation that ended with the Texas Supreme Court siding with the Republican governor in blocking Dallas and Bexar counties from enforcing their own masking rules.

However, a Bexar County judge ruled earlier Monday that they could proceed with the masking rule.

"Today, a district judge granted our temporary injunction against the governor," said Ron Nirenberg, the mayor of San Antonio, which is included in Bexar County. "In simple terms -- our local health authority's public school mask order remains in effect."

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In her ruling, District Judge Antonia Arteaga said: "My thoughts continue to be with those children in our schools that don't have access to the vaccine, but must attend school, coupled with the dire situation right here in Bexar County hospitals, and where we currently find ourselves."

However, the state on Monday continued to threaten districts with litigation if they go against the executive order.

Ken Paxton, the state's attorney general, on Monday said Texas was experiencing a "wave of lawlessness," and asked the public to inform him of any government entities instituting mask directives in opposition to Abbott's controversial executive order.

"No government in Texas may impose a mask mandate," he said in a statement. "Yet too many local officials continue to violate this law. I will sue every single local entity and local official who does. And if they continue to disobey, I will pursue additional legal sanctions."

Those who support mask mandates in schools argue they are necessary as many students are still too young to be inoculated against the disease. They say this not only makes the students vulnerable but the staff and teachers who educate them, and mask mandates will help prevent adults from bringing home COVID-19 to their own families who may, depending on their health status, suffer from worse outcomes.

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The fight over masks occurs as Texas, the second sickest state in the country, is fighting spiking cases and COVID-19-related hospitalizations.

According to state statistics, daily cases spiked to a high of nearly 22,000 over the weekend from a low of of about a 1,000 a day in end of June. Hospitalizations are also up to more than 11,700 from about 1,500 within that same time period.

Meanwhile, at least three Texas communities have announced school closures due to a surge of COVID-19 in their regions.

Late Monday, the Iraan-Sheffield Independent School District, which is about 260 miles northwest of San Antonio, said its schools will be closed for the next two weeks and that its faculty and students should quarantine.

"This means that students and staff will quarantine only with immediate family," Superintendent Tracy Canter said in the letter to the community. "They should not be out and about in the community or hanging out with friends. The only way that this will work is if everyone does their part."

Canter's announcement came a day after the small school districts of Waskom and Bloomburg separately announced closures.

Rae Ann Patty, the superintended for Waskom, said Sunday in a statement on Facebook that Waskom Elementary School would be closed until Friday due to the number of staff infected with the virus, while Bloomburg said its entire district would also be closed until Friday due to sick staff.

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