Dress code dodge: School leaders dig in for big mask fights in 3 states

Florida superintendent extends mask mandate after threats from state officials
By: | August 18, 2021
Students in Texas' Harlingen CISD wore masks during class activities last school year.Students in Texas' Harlingen CISD wore masks during class activities last school year.

Clashes over school masks mandates amid the worsening delta surge have escalated, with governors warning defiant superintendents about funding cuts, investigations and other possible sanctions.

In Arizona, Gov. Doug Ducey warned district leaders who did not follow all states laws—most notably, a ban on mask mandates—could miss out on their share of $163 million in grants that would help boost per-pupil spending.

Schools must also remain open for in-person learning all year to be eligible for the grants, which could raise public and charter school per-pupil spending by $1,800.

“Parents are in the driver’s seat, and it’s their right to make decisions that best fit the needs of their children,” Ducey said in a statement. “Safety recommendations are welcomed and encouraged—mandates that place more stress on students and families aren’t.”

In Texas, one district has used its dress code to sidestep legal actions taken by Gov. Greg Abbott—who was diagnosed with COVID on Tuesday—and other officials to crackdown on mask mandates.

BREAKING NEWS: Washington teachers and school staff will lose jobs they refuse vaccination 

The school board in Paris ISD in East Texas voted during an emergency meeting Tuesday to make masks a part of the district dress code, The Dallas Morning News reported.

“The Board believes the dress code can be used to mitigate communicable health issues, and therefore has amended the PISD dress code to protect our students and employees,” the district said on its website. “The Texas Governor does not have the authority to usurp the Board of Trustees’ exclusive power and duty to govern and oversee the management of the public schools of the district.”

El Paso and Socorro ISD also announced mask mandates, in compliance with city requirements for face coverings indoors.

Florida superintendents stick to their mandates

The penalties that Florida superintendents who are sticking by their mask mandates may face remain vague.

On Tuesday night, the Florida Board of Education called for further investigation of the Alachua and Broward county school districts, which have not allowed parents to opt-out of mask mandates, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

In response, the Alachua County School District, led by Superintendent Carlee Simon, extended its mask mandate for eight weeks.

Broward County also recommitted to its mask requirement even though Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis earlier this summer banned districts from mandating face coverings and had also threatened financial penalties.

Several Florida districts, meanwhile, have thousands of students infected or in quarantine as the state grapples with one of the nation’s most dangerous COVID outbreaks.

Some 5,500 students are quarantined or infected by COVID in Hillsborough County Public Schools, which includes the city of Tampa. Brevard County Public Schools, on Florida’s east coast, reported more than 3,000 individuals in quarantine and nearly 300 student infections in its Aug. 16 COVID report.