Superintendent Jeannie Stone made the announcement after consulting with health officials as well as the district’s legal advisers. Despite Gov. Greg Abbott’s statewide ban on mask mandates, Stone said the district is legally allowed to require masks due to a separate ruling from a Travis County court that allows each Texas school district to make its own decision based on local conditions.
“This ruling, at least temporarily, puts this decision where it should be: at the local level,” she said in an Aug. 16 video statement, noting that the Travis County court will revisit the ruling Aug. 25 and that it could be appealed.
Stone said the decision is meant to protect students, specifically those who are too young to be vaccinated against the virus.
“What I have learned consistently and repeatedly from those health officials is that the delta variant is more contagious for everyone and is also impacting younger students more than COVID[-19] did last year,” she said, noting that as of Aug. 16, 49 employees and 50 students had reported active cases of COVID-19 to the district.
Last week, RISD announced a temporary option that allows students in kindergarten through sixth grade to begin the school year virtually. Students who enroll would begin school Aug. 23 and return to in-person learning Oct. 15. The district has extended the deadline for parents to opt into the virtual program to Aug. 17 at midnight.
Stone acknowledged the varying opinions on mask mandates but urged parents to “not place their children in the middle of an ongoing political and legal situation” by following the district’s guidelines related to COVID-19.
“I still believe now more than ever our students need to be back in school with us, but we have to do everything we can to mitigate this virus, so we will require masks for the time being,” she said.
The district is monitoring the pandemic daily and will respond to developments as needed, Stone said. Families can visit this link for more information about the district’s COVID-19 protocols.