AUSTIN, Texas – Masks for students and teachers will be mandatory in counties with more than 20 reported COVID-19 cases when public schools resume in-person classes this fall, under new public health guidelines released by Texas state education officials Tuesday.
School districts must offer daily on-campus instruction for all students who want it, but any parent may request that their child be offered virtual instruction from any school district that offers it, under the guidelines issued by the the Texas Education Agency.
The final guidance has been modified from a draft that the agency accidentally posted last month which included few safety mandates for school districts, consistent with Gov. Greg Abbott's hands-off approach to the pandemic at the time.
Since then, as cases have risen, Abbott has shut down some businesses and issued an executive order requiring people living in counties with more than 20 active coronavirus cases to wear masks while in a building open to the public or outdoor public space, wherever social distancing is not possible.
"Consistent with the executive order, masks are required in schools for the duration of the executive order," education Commissioner Mike Morath told superintendents on a phone call Tuesday. "It's likely the executive order will be modified over time. As it does our guidance will be modified."
Abbott's order does not apply to children younger than 10 years old. School districts in counties with fewer than 20 cases can mandate students and staff wear masks, but do not have to, Morath said.
Teachers, more susceptible to COVID-19, were concerned upon hearing last month that state leaders considered it "safe" to return to school. Earlier Tuesday, the Texas State Teachers Association put out a statement asking Abbott to "slow down and put safety first" before reopening campus this fall.