Dallas—Dallas ISD held an emergency press conference led by Superintendent Michael Hinojosa on Monday, Aug. 9. He announced the district will require all staff, students, and visitors to wear masks when on district property, effective Aug. 10.
The announcement goes against an executive order from Governor Abbott, stating schools in Texas do not have the authority to mandate masks.
“Everyone on campus will be wearing masks: staff, students, families, and visitors,” Superintendent Hinojosa said at the press conference. “This will apply to coaches, this will apply to sponsors, this will be applied to athletics.
“The Delta variant of COVID-19 has surged.We are now in the red level.”
The red threat level is the highest on the county’s scale. The level has been red since Aug. 3, when the Public Health Committee unanimously approved the signal. The county had not been at red since March 2021.
“[The TEA] says you don’t have to contact trace. We’re going to contact trace,” Hinojosa said. “They say you don’t have to remove people who have been afflicted if they have had the vaccine. We’re discussing all those issues. They made those decisions permissive, not prescriptive, and I do appreciate that.
“On June 18 when we ended school, there were only 103 new cases in Dallas County. Currently, as of last Friday, there are 820 new cases.More importantly, UT Southwestern Medical professionals project that by Aug. 23, we will have 2,000 new cases per day.
“As the superintendent of the second-largest district in Texas, I’m responsible for everything. Most importantly, the safety of our students and staff and families. I need to implement whatever safety protocols I feel are in the best interest of our school district.
“Last year, we had the opportunity to pivot for virtual instruction,” Hinojosa said. “There is no virtual option at this time. However, I am having my team look at a virtual option to see if we can pull it off. We would get no state funding.
“The governor is responsible for the state of Texas. I’m responsible for Dallas ISD.
“I am the chief executive officer of the school district, and I am responsible for the day to day operations. The board governs and oversees the management; I am the management. When we put together our protocols, it was my team that put that together, ultimately me. So I think I have the authority, and so do the attorneys think that I have the authority to make the decision.
“I’m also going to tell you this is fluid.”
Responding to a question on why Dallas ISD felt they had to take the responsibility of safety decisions into its own hands from the staff, parents, and students, Hinojosa said, “If we can save one student, one teacher from going through this awful pain, [then we have to take responsibility]. And this will get them more prepared to learn. I think that if you do this together, you have a better chance for success.
“I was at Adelle Turner Elementary School this morning, and 95 percent, maybe 98 percent of the kids had a mask on. 99 percent of the adults had a mask on. Our families, our students, our parents are very compliant. I have the full expectation people will cooperate with us.
“There are some variations of outdoor activities [where] you will be able to do certain things [without masks] and we’ll be working with our teams on that.”
Austin ISD and Houston ISD have issued similar announcements to the one in Dallas, and multiple advocacy groups have filed lawsuits against Governor Abbott over executive orders prohibiting mask mandates from any public or private entity that utilizes public funds.
School starts in Dallas ISD on Monday, Aug. 16.