Thirty-two Democratic members of the Texas House of Representatives signed a July 23 letter urging Gov. Greg Abbott and Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath to allow public schools to instate mask mandates and virtual learning options for the 2021-22 school year.

The letter written by Rep. Vikki Goodwin, D-Austin, addressed her constituents’ anxieties regarding recent increases in coronavirus cases, in part attributed to the delta variant of COVID-19, which is roughly twice as contagious as the COVID-19 strain that began spreading in March 2020. The day the letter was sent, Goodwin’s District 47 in Travis County reverted back to Stage 4 coronavirus guidelines due to rising hospitalizations.

Among the signed representatives are Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, Rep. Diego Bernal, D-San Antonio and Rep. Ann Johnson, D-Houston, to name a few.

“One of the crucial arenas for battling the coronavirus is the school. The academic year will be starting soon, and we have heard from school officials and parents in our districts that the path we are on is not acceptable to them,” Goodwin wrote.

Under Abbott’s Executive Order GA-36 issued in May, government entities, including school districts, counties, cities and public health authorities in Texas, cannot mandate mask wearing. As of June 4, public schools cannot require students, staff members, parents or campus visitors to wear face coverings, per Abbott’s order.

Goodwin’s letter went on to ask Morath and the Texas Education Agency to enable virtual instruction options for students, particularly those at a risk of contracting coronavirus or suffering complications as a result of the virus. School districts statewide nixed plans to provide virtual instruction for the upcoming school year after House Bill 1468一designed to provide funding to continue virtual learning一 failed to pass during the 87th legislative session.

Several districts, including Round Rock ISD, will continue to provide virtual learning options for certain students in the 2021-22 school year; however, this initiative will be funded independent from state dollars. In fact, RRISD will lose about $4,000 per semester in attendance-based funding for each student who engages in remote learning.

Nearby in Leander ISD, parent interest in a virtual learning program exceeded the district’s 300-student capacity by July 21, with a recent influx of applications, according to Superintendent Bruce Gearing.

“Families are concerned about matters of life and death: If they feel that pulling their child out of school is the only way to survive, then they will do that,” Goodwin wrote. “The least we can do is provide them an option so they will not have to sacrifice their child’s education to ensure their safety.”