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Paris, Texas School District Adds Face Masks To Dress Code; Defies Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's Order

PARIS, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) - The Paris school district has found a way around Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's executive order banning mask mandates by adding face coverings to its dress code.

Paris ISD posted the following statement on their website on August 17:

The Board of Trustees is concerned about the health and safety of its students and employees. 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 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. Nothing in the Governor's Executive Order 38 states he has suspended Chapter 11 of the Texas Education Code, and therefore the Board has elected to amend its dress code consistent with its statutory authority.

The emerging delta variant has created a spike in COVID-19 cases resulting in increased pediatric hospitalizations in the state. Educators, along with board members are taking action to protect students, teachers and workers. Other school districts south of Paris ISD, such as Dallas ISD, Garland ISD, DeSoto ISD, Lancaster ISD, Cedar Hill ISD, Duncanville ISD, Grand Prairie ISD, Richardson ISD, Mesquite ISD, Irving ISD and Everman ISD and Crowley ISD have also defied the governor's order that bans mask mandates from public officials. And at least four school districts in Texas have already closed campuses due to outbreaks.

Dr. David Persse, who is health authority for the Houston Health Department and EMS medical director said Tuesday that in the 25-county region around Houston, 629 COVID patients are waiting for beds but can't get admitted to a hospital. An additional 112 patients are waiting for ICU beds, he said.

On Tuesday, state health officials reported 12,227 COVID-19 hospitalizations in Texas, the first time the state had surpassed 12,000 since Jan. 27.

Since June 27, when hospitalizations had been at their lowest point in more than a year, they have jumped by 756%. State health officials reported 24,422 new and probable cases on Tuesday.

The school district in Gorman, located about 70 miles east of Abilene, was set to begin the new school year on Wednesday but is now delaying that by a week "due to positive COVID cases within the school community of both faculty and students," Superintendent Mike Winter said in a statement. "This decision was not made lightly or quickly, and it was made with the best interest of all students, staff, and parents' safety in mind," Winter said.

In East Texas, the Bloomburg school district announced it was shut down this week "due to the number of staff members out with COVID." Classes had started on Aug. 9. And about 60 miles south of Bloomburg, the Waskom school district's elementary campus was closed due to the "number of staff members out with COVID," said Superintendent Rae Ann Patty. Classes in Waskom had started Aug. 11. These school districts join the Iraan-Sheffield Independent School District in West Texas, which on August 16 announced it would close schools for two weeks so students and staff could quarantine due to COVID-19. Classes had started on Aug. 10.

Mask wearing was optional in these four school districts prior to this week.

At least 21 other Texas school districts, including some of the state's biggest, have instituted mask mandates, which are in violation of Abbott's executive order banning such measures. The debate over mandatory mask wearing continues to be litigated in various courts around the state. The issue was expected to ultimately be decided by the Texas Supreme Court, which has already halted mask mandates in two of the state's largest counties.

Mask wearing remains a polarizing issue for many, especially when it comes to schools.

In the Eanes school district in Austin, which is requiring masks, a parent "physically assaulted" one teacher by ripping a mask off her face while another teacher was yelled at by other parents because they couldn't understand what the teacher was saying while she wore a mask, Superintendent Tom Leonard said in a statement. The first day of classes in the Eanes district was not until Wednesday. "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. Please, I am asking everyone to be kind…do not fight mask wars in our schools," Leonard said.

On Monday, August 16, the Round Rock and West Oso school districts became the latest to defy Gov. Abbott and require students and staff to wear masks.

The San Antonio school district, which also has a mask mandate, on Monday announced it was requiring all staff to become vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 15.

In West Texas, El Paso County officials announced that starting Wednesday they would require masks be worn inside all indoor facilities, including schools.

In Harris County, officials on Tuesday announced $100 gift cards for anyone getting a vaccine as part of their efforts to boost vaccination rates.

(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)


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