BRAZOS COUNTY, TEXAS — A number of major metropolitan public school districts in Texas have implemented mask mandates over the course of the week, despite Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order not to do so. The Brazos Valley’s two largest school districts, Bryan ISD and College Station ISD, have made the decision to continue following Abbott’s direction, and not enforce a mask policy.
"We are going to continue to work very closely with our fellow education agencies around the Brazos Valley, our local health department here in Brazos County, and also to listen to the guidance of the TEA and the Department of Health Services," said Matt LeBlanc, spokesperson for Bryan ISD.
While neither district will require students or staff to wear masks, both have stated publicly that the practice is encouraged. Each noted that their administration are aware of the stance that larger cities are taking, but that deviation from the governor’s orders is not in the cards for the local area.
“Everyone’s looking at what other folks are doing," commented Chuck Glenewinkel, spokesperson for College Station ISD. "But the reality of the situation is that College Station ISD - we’re going to follow the governor’s executive order.”
“It gets into a very slippery slope when the governor has issued an executive order for the state, told a school district that they cannot do something, and then the school district says they're not going to follow what the governor’s saying" said LeBlanc. "... The example we’re setting for our students, we believe that it’s important to continue to follow the governor’s executive order.”
Teachers and administrators will face many challenges this year related to COVID-19. CSISD and BISD are unable to offer virtual learning for any students who are homesick or quarantining, as the state government did not provide funding for schools to implement virtual learning options.
“They [the state] will allow up to 20 days of remote conferencing, but the stipulations around it make it to where it really isn’t feasible,” Glenewinkel noted.
The districts will continue to promote other safety practices such as hand washing. Students and staff will be instructed to self-screen for COVID-19 symptoms before coming to school, and both districts will require an individual to isolate at home if they test positive for the novel coronavirus.
Still, determining all proper procedures when dealing with positive COVID-19 cases or potential exposure to the virus – it's tricky to navigate.
“The TEA is saying that contact tracing is the responsibility of your local health authority," Matt LeBlanc explained. "They’re also saying that a school district should notify those in close contact of a positive COVID case when the school district knows about it. So it’s kind of a mixed message right there.”
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