Houston ISD superintendent to propose districtwide mask mandate to school board

Houston ISD Superintendent Millard House II outlined plans for a proposed mask mandate at an Aug. 5 HISD agenda review meeting. (Screenshot courtesy Houston ISD)
Houston ISD Superintendent Millard House II outlined plans for a proposed mask mandate at an Aug. 5 HISD agenda review meeting. (Screenshot courtesy Houston ISD)

Houston ISD Superintendent Millard House II outlined plans for a proposed mask mandate at an Aug. 5 HISD agenda review meeting. (Screenshot courtesy Houston ISD)

As coronavirus cases and hospitalizations increase at a rapid pace in the Houston area—prompting county leaders to raise the virus threat level to "severe" Aug. 5—Houston ISD Superintendent Millard House II said he will propose a mask mandate to the district's board for consideration next week.

At an Aug. 5 agenda review meeting, House said the mandate would apply to all students and employees in district facilities and on buses. He said the decision was one he had labored over this past week as case numbers rose.

"We know that we are going to get pushback for this," he said. "We know that people will be angry. Some will be happy. We're not going to be able to please everybody. ... If we have an opportunity to save one life, it's what we should be doing."

House, who took over as HISD superintendent this summer, has committed to having all classroom instruction take place in person during the 2021-22 school year. The position is one echoed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has listed the safe return to in-person instruction this fall as a priority.

The CDC has also urged the wearing of masks by all vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals while in schools. However, an executive order issued by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in May prohibits public schools from issuing mask mandates. The city of Houston has also issued a mask mandate for all city employees in defiance of Abbott's order.


HISD issued a back-to-school plan in late July outlining some safety procedures for the upcoming year, including the continued use of plexiglass dividers and restricting visitation to essential visitors with scheduled appointments.

At the Aug. 5 meeting, House said a new, more detailed plan was in the works that will touch on mask coverings, sanitation and physical distancing as well as rules for specific activities such as athletics and in-person gatherings.

The threshold for closing a school varies on a case-by-case basis, he said.

"When we have a situation at a school when we have a positive case, we have to look at that case individually," House said. "It may be that we close a grade level; it may be we close a wing at a school. It's case by case depending on the contact tracing."

The mask mandate will come back to the HISD school board for a vote at its Aug. 12 regular meeting.

Some trustees voiced support for the proposed mandate at the Aug. 5 meeting.

"I will vote for anything and everything that will keep our students safe," trustee Elizabeth Santos said. "I don't care if other ... leaders of the state, if they continue to play political games. Our kids are more important."

Harris County has over 20,000 active cases of COVID-19, according to the Harris County Public Health dashboard, with a testing positivity rate of over 15%. Across Texas Medical Center systems, coronavirus hospitalizations had reached over 300 patients per day as of Aug. 4.


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