SAN ANTONIO – The academic school year is upon us, but while the official start dates are set in stone, the COVID-19 plans for San Antonio area school districts have been changing by the day.
While many students had at least some face-to-face instruction for the 2019-2020 school year, some students haven’t set foot in a physical classroom since the spring of 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic shuttered Texas schools.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends everyone 12 years and older get the COVID-19 vaccine but that still leaves elementary-school-aged children at risk.
The Texas State Teachers Association has urged Abbott to give schools the power to require masks, but it’s still a source of debate and legal rulings even as many students head back to class.
If you have whiplash trying to keep up with the latest mask rules, you’re not alone. Here’s a timeline leading up to where we stand now:
- June 5: An Executive Order issued by Abbott went into effect prohibiting counties, cities, school districts, public health authorities, or government officials from requiring or mandating mask wearing.
- July 29: Abbott issued another executive order that further removed local governments’ abilities to enact policies like requiring people to wear masks, get vaccinated or set capacity limits.
- Aug. 10: A Bexar County Civil District Court Judge granted a request from officials with Bexar County and the City of San Antonio and issued a temporary restraining order against Abbott’s executive order. The ruling allowed the Bexar County Health Authority to issue a health directive for public schools to issue a mask mandate in public schools and other guidance like quarantine protocols. As a result, school districts in Bexar County announced they would require masks inside campuses.
- Aug. 15: The Texas Supreme Court ruled in favor of Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney Gen. Ken Paxton, temporarily banning mask mandates in Bexar and Dallas counties. Some San Antonio-area school districts eliminated mask mandates following that ruling.
- Aug. 16: 57th Civil District Court Judge Toni Arteaga ruled in favor of Bexar County. The ruling grants a temporary injunction that prevents the enforcement of Abbott’s executive order that barred local governments from issuing coronavirus-related mandates. The ruling is likely to be appealed by the governor and Attorney General Ken Paxton. The mask mandate on public schools and city employees will remain in effect until the trial is scheduled, unless higher courts reverse the decision before then.
- Aug. 19: The Fourth Court of Appeals upheld the temporary injunction.
- Aug. 24: Abbott and Paxton filed an emergency motion to the Texas Supreme Court, seeking a stay on the injunction that allowed Bexar County’s mask mandate to move forward.
- Aug. 26: The Texas Supreme Court granted the stay, but has not yet ruled on the state’s request to permanently lift the injunction as the case moves its way through the courts.
Masks aren’t the only source of contention for how to appropriately address the ongoing pandemic for local districts.
Parents are wondering whether students will be quarantined after exposure or if they’ll even be notified when there are cases at their children’s schools.
North East Independent School District initially said it would not send notifications to parents of positive COVID cases and then reversed the decision following backlash.
Virtual-only instruction isn’t an option for the upcoming school year. Virtual instruction is only allowed under Texas law if the majority of instruction is in-person and most school districts have planned for only in-person learning.
House Bill 1468 would have allowed funding for virtual instruction but it died on the legislative floor despite bipartisan support because House Democrats walked off the floor in an effort to block a controversial voting bill.
The following San Antonio school districts have released COVID-19 plans for the 2021-2022 school year:
WATCH BELOW: SAISD lays out COVID-19 safety protocols as in-person learning returns this fall
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This article will be updated as more information becomes available.