One day prior to the first day of school, Eanes ISD Superintendent Tom Leonard addressed the district’s mask policy in an Aug. 17 letter to parents and staff.

The last few days leading to the start of school have been a whirlwind of information and action from governors, attorneys general, judges, mayors, superintendents and even principals,” Leonard wrote.

Though the 2021-22 school year is underway for many students in Travis County, EISD and surrounding ISDs are caught between two conflicting orders on mask requirements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 a school district, can require the wearing of masks.

At this time, Leonard said the district will require students and staff to wear face masks while on district property in accordance with orders issued Aug. 11 by Austin Mayor Steve Adler and Travis County Judge Andy Brown. This policy will remain in effect barring any decisions made by the higher courts, Leonard said.

However, Leonard said compliance with the county’s order is reliant on “self-regulation,” meaning the order does not permit any school district to legally enforce the mask mandate. Based on Leonard’s personal conversations with Brown, he said school officials cannot legally apply consequences to a student or staff member who refuses to wear a mask.

“To be clear, we respect the Travis County order requiring masks and highly encourage masks for all students, staff and visitors to our campuses,” Leonard wrote. “However, when read carefully, the mask mandate is problematic.”

Additionally, Travis County schools have the flexibility to determine when it is not appropriate to require students, staff or visitors to wear a face coverings. As a result, Leonard said EISD will not require masks when developmentally inappropriate when eating, when participating in extracurricular activities or physical education, or during outdoor activities.

Regardless of the evolving legality surrounding mask mandates, Leonard encouraged the EISD community to maintain respect for one another and told the community “do not fight mask wars in our schools.”

Leonard spoke to an incident concerning a parent who physically assaulted a teacher by ripping a mask off her face while others yelled at the teacher to remove her mask.

“This type of behavior will not be tolerated in Eanes ISD. Our staff are on the front lines of this pandemic; let’s give them some space and grace,” he wrote.