Less than a week before the first day of school, Eanes ISD reversed its mask protocol amid ongoing litigation.
After initially announcing a mask-optional policy, Superintendent Tom Leonard published a letter Aug. 14 stating students, staff and visitors will be required to wear a face mask while on campus. The change in policy arrived on the heels of a city and countywide mask mandate issued amid rising coronavirus cases and a lack of intensive care unit capacity.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler and Travis County Judge Andy Brown issued orders Aug. 11 requiring masks to be worn on city and county premises, including public schools. At this time, EISD will comply with the orders; however, the district is caught in what Leonard called a “legal tug of war.”
EISD and surrounding Travis County districts are grappling with two conflicting orders一one from local officials requiring masks and one from Gov. Greg Abbott that prohibits such mandates. Under Abbott’s Executive Order GA-38, no government entity, such as an ISD, can require the wearing of masks.
Amid the changing legal landscape, in the evening on Aug. 15, The Texas Supreme Court granted stay orders against mask mandates approved by lower courts in Dallas and Bexar counties. While the court decision did not directly affect Travis County’s order, Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton have vowed to fight any court restraining order against the governor's executive order.
EISD issued a subsequent announcement Aug. 15 that acknowledged The Texas Supreme Court’s decision but did not rescind the district’s mask requirement.
“I believe the situation we are in will be settled in the courts, as there are multiple lawsuits pending nationwide on the issue of masks in schools,” Leonard wrote, adding that EISD will follow the prevailing law.
While new changes in legality may be on the horizon, Leonard said the district is focused on safely reopening schools and protecting students. Regardless of the legal outcomes, the district will significantly limit visitors and assemblies, provide sanitization stations, assign seats at elementary school lunch tables, provide personal protective equipment, and update an online dashboard of district coronavirus cases.
Though EISD cannot legally require vaccinations, Leonard said an estimated 90% of staff members are already vaccinated.
“It is likely we will have a few more legal twists between now and the first day of school. We will send out additional communication to our community as the situation evolves. Unfortunately, like many other school districts, we are in the middle of a political battle we cannot control,” Leonard wrote.