DALLAS - Gov. Greg Abbott has issued a new executive order that will soon force Texas school districts to drop their mask requirements in the classroom.
The new order, which goes into effect on May 21, imposes a fine of up to $1,000 on any city, county, school district or other governmental entity still mandating masks.
Public school districts may keep their current policies until June 4. But after then, the governor said no student, teacher, staff member, parent or visitor can be required to wear a mask while on campus.
"The Lone Star State continues to defeat COVID-19 through the use of widely-available vaccines, antibody therapeutic drugs, and safe practices utilized by Texans in our communities," Abbott said. "Texans, not government, should decide their best health practices, which is why masks will not be mandated by public school districts or government entities. We can continue to mitigate COVID-19 while defending Texans' liberty to choose whether or not they mask up."
The question many are asking now is how this impacts me and my family.
If you go to a library, city hall or a government-owned recreation center, wearing a mask is your decision.
But places like Walmart are still on an honor system, saying fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks. But the retailer asks those who are not vaccinated to wear one.
With multiple conventions scheduled in the next month, the governors order would apply to the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center owned by the city of Dallas.
One of governor Abbott’s biggest in-state rivals is Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, who has rarely agreed with any decision the governor has made during the pandemic.
"I am not going to add legitimacy with my voice to an order that makes you less safe," Jenkins said. "If you are fully vaccinated, there is no need to wear a mask. If you have not, the CDC says it’s in your best interest and the community’s best interest that you stay masked."
It's a different story in neighboring Tarrant County.
Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley and county commissioners unanimously voted Tuesday to rescind the order requiring masks in county buildings.
"I am tired of wearing them too," he said. "If the people who have not been vaccinated, that is their responsibility."
Most cities and counties dropped their mask requirements after the governor lifted his statewide mandate in March. However, the Texas Education Agency gave local school boards full authority over their mask policies.
Abbott’s new order will mostly affect school districts such as Dallas and Fort Worth that do not break for the summer until after June 4.
Dallas ISD and Fort Worth ISD both started the school year late due to the pandemic. So while June 4 would typically fall during the summer break, this year it comes during the final weeks of the school year.
The CDC revised its guidelines unexpectedly last week, saying people who are fully vaccinated do not need to wear masks indoors. But the CDC kept its recommendations that masks be worn universally in schools through the end of this school year.
The vaccine is not yet available for children under 12.
Gov. Abbott's order does not mention the CDC or its guidelines.
Rena Honea, president of Alliance-AFT, says the timing is bad for districts like Dallas ISD that will still have two weeks left of school when the order takes effect.
"I still think it is a little early for that type of executive order," she said. "He has done that. Everyone has to make their own decision at this time."
Honea says teachers will have mixed reactions, with some who feel it makes their job less safe, while others will be happy to have one less barrier between connecting with students.
Several school districts have already made it optional to wear masks in classrooms based on relaxed guidelines from the TEA.
Dallas ISD said in a statement that the district will still highly encourage people to wear masks. But since it won't be required, "that’s why we will continue following social distancing and sanitation protocols, and are committed to continue offering services like student and staff vaccinations."
A spokesman for Fort Worth ISD said the governor's order will likely be a topic of discussion May 25.
It’s been months of masking up at Mockingbird Elementary in Dallas. Tuesday afternoon, parents picking up their children from school were met with a decision as masks inside the classroom are soon to be optional.
"I think banning the masks is not a good move," said parent Kyle Henry.
"I think it’s time to let our children see the teacher’s faces," said parent Amanda Louder.
Joshua Javier says he and his daughter are ready to leave the masks at home.
"I thought it was a good thing," he said. "We adjusted. We understood during the time with what is going on, but now there is no reason for it."
Louder feels comfortable with her daughter removing her mask.
"I feel like we have gotten to the turning point," she said.
But Beau Sharbrough’s son will keep his on.
"He will be wearing his mask even if the school doesn’t require it," he said. "This all looks political, not scientific to me."
Dallas ISD does say it will continue to follow social distancing and sanitation protocols and will continue to vaccinate staff and eligible students.
On Good Day FOX 4, Parkland Hospital Chief Medical Officer Dr. Joseph Chang said people who are fully vaccinated should not be worried about those who are unvaccinated ditching their masks while out in public.
"Listen, if you are vaccinated, you are safe. Take a deep breath. It’s alright," Dr. Chang said.
But only a small percentage of children in the state of Texas are vaccinated. Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine is the only one approved for kids over the age of 12.
Dr. Chang said he believes the vaccines will ultimately be approved for younger children and he will highly encourage them once they are.
"The largest reservoir and the demographic that is really holding the infection in the community is our 0-17 age group. That proportion of folks getting sick is getting higher every single month. It’s our pediatric population. So we need our kids to get vaccinated," he said.
State-supported living centers, government-owned or operated hospitals and jails and prisons are exempt from the governor's new order.