ATPE responds to governor's removal of statewide mask mandate
Date Posted: 3/02/2021 | Author: Jennifer Mitchell
At a press conference surrounded by business leaders in Lubbock, Texas, Governor Greg Abbott today announced he is removing statewide restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19. This includes the cancellation of a statewide mask mandate that has been in place since last summer.
ATPE issued a press statement calling the governor's action "the wrong move at the wrong time" and something that is likely to increase anxiety among educators.
The Texas Education Agency (TEA) has not yet shared updated guidance for how Texas public schools should respond to this change. ATPE is calling for the agency to provide an immediate update. Existing TEA guidance on health and safety calls for schools to abide by the governor's restrictions. That document, which was published December 10, 2020, and was still the most recent health and safety guidance posted on the TEA website as of today, adds that "school systems may require the use of masks or face shields for adults or students for whom it is developmentally appropriate." With statewide restrictions being removed in the coming days, however, today's announcement from the governor leaves open many questions about how schools should respond and what steps they can and should take to keep their students and staff safe.
Abbott made no mention of schools during his press conference today, and he did not take any questions from reporters at the event.
Educators have not yet been added to the groups eligible for priority access to COVID-19 vaccines in Texas. Other states have been rushing to vaccinate their educators, by contrast. The delay in giving school employees access to the vaccine has made it more critical for schools to implement other safety precautions, including mask requirements and physical distancing. The CDC has repeatedly emphasized the importance of wearing masks, even recently, and several health officials have disagreed with governing authorities' actions to remove COVID-19 restrictions at this stage.
“Lifting the mask mandate at a time when most educators still don’t have access to a COVID-19 vaccine and are anxious about being in close proximity to large numbers of students and fellow staff only adds stress to the already crushing pressure placed on our school employees during the pandemic,” wrote ATPE Executive Director Shannon Holmes in today's press release. Holmes added, “This ill-advised move is likely only to prompt educators to resign or retire.”
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