South Texas school district passes resolution asking governor to allow mask mandate

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The Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District Board of Trustees unanimously voted Aug. 9, 2021, to ask Gov. Greg Abbott to allow them to impose local mask mandate rules as coronavirus rates skyrocket on the South Texas border with Mexico. (Photo by PSJA ISD)

PHARR, Texas (Border Report) — A Rio Grande Valley school district on the South Texas border has joined much larger districts in Dallas and Austin in wanting to implement a local mask mandate, despite Gov. Greg Abbott’s rules forbidding such regulations.

Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District Board of Trustees on Monday unanimously approved a resolution requesting Abbott to allow it to make local decisions regarding COVID-19 protocols. The district also is asking that the Texas education commissioner be granted the authority to allow funding for virtual instruction if the board determines it’s too dangerous for in-person learning.

The PSJA School Board believes that having the ability to mandate masks, if the local data requires it, would further the ultimate goal of providing in-person instruction in a safe and effective manner, according to the resolution. The district serves about 32,000 students.

“We thank the support and unity of our PSJA School Board and entire community to send this strong message, as we continue to work on keeping our students safe,” PSJA Superintendent Dr. Jorge Arredondo said in a statement.

The resolution asks Abbott to recognize that local school boards “have the exclusive authority to determine whether face coverings should be required to ensure the safety of students and staff.”

“The resolution reiterates the declaration of emergency by Hidalgo County regarding the potential spread of COVID-19 in the area and specifies that COVID-19 and its variants are an unforeseen and unavoidable emergency of urgent public necessity, which requires district officials to make decisions quickly to ensure the safety of its students and employees, PSJA officials said in a statement. 

Abbott issued an executive order on May 18 prohibiting governmental bodies, like school districts, from requiring facial coverings to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Abbott also prohibited governmental bodies from requiring their staff get coronavirus vaccines.

The actions by the PSJA board follow actions by Dallas ISD and Austin ISD, which on Monday both announced they would require masks.

Houston ISD is expected to vote on a mask mandate later this week.

On Thursday, Brownsville ISD, also located on the South Texas border, is expected to take up a resolution similar to the PSJA resolution during a specially called board meeting, according to the agenda.

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