After multiple hours of at-times contentious public testimony, Lake Travis ISD officials elected to keep the district’s optional masking policy for its students.
The LTISD board of trustees at an emergency Aug. 26 special meeting failed to take a vote to change the policy to mandate masks for its students, a move that keeps its existing mask-optional policy in place.
The decision comes after weeks of jockeying in the Texas court system, where some independent school districts are challenging Gov. Greg Abbott’s ban on mask mandates.
Abbott in July issued an executive order that prohibits jurisdictions from implementing face mask mandates. Several school districts mounted a legal challenge to that executive order in early August, and the Texas Supreme Court has previously permitted school districts to temporarily enact mask mandates while the matter is tied up in the courts.
However, an Aug. 26 ruling from the Texas Supreme Court appears to delegate mask mandate powers back to the governor.
LTISD trustee Bob Dorsett said during the Aug. 26 meeting that the Texas Supreme Court’s most recent ruling prevents the school district from implementing mask mandates at this time.
“To say we should come out with a mask mandate would be against the law,” Dorsett said. “We're doing everything we’re allowed to do in terms of what the laws allow. ... The direction [the Texas Supreme Court has] given us is pretty strong.”
The special board of trustees meeting was called after LTISD recorded dozens of new coronavirus cases among its student body within the first couple weeks of school.
According to the COVID-19 dashboard on the school district’s website, there are 57 active cases in LTISD students as of Aug. 26. There are 68 cumulative cases in the student population, accounting for 0.59% of all students.
There are 10 active cases in LTISD employees and 17 cumulative employee cases, which accounts for 1.16% of all district employees.
Other nearby school districts have enacted mask mandates as they have recorded an increase in new coronavirus cases in students.
Leander ISD on Aug. 23 enacted a mask requirement for its students after the Williamson County and Cities Health District recommended the school district close all of its campuses for 10 days. LISD has reported 551 cumulative COVID-19 cases in its students and employees since early August.
Austin ISD, Eanes ISD and Round Rock ISD all have mask mandates in place. It is not immediately clear if any of those districts will lift their mask mandates following the Aug. 26 Texas Supreme Court ruling.
The LTISD board of trustees elected to decline to vote on its masking policy after more than two hours of public testimony.
More than 100 LTISD residents signed up to speak on the agenda item, board President John Aoueille said. Speakers throughout the night included LTISD students and teachers alongside health care professionals, firefighters and a local city council member.