North Texas school districts scramble for guidance after mask mandate lifted

The governor addressed masks and occupancy limits for businesses. But for schools, the guidance is not as specific.

Teachers, students, parents and staff have been working hard to try to keep infection rates down.

School superintendents are frustrated by the timing of the governor's announcement. They're worried the lifting the mask mandate now could make it harder for them to get all kids back in the classroom next school year.

For now, schools are waiting on specific guidance from the Texas Education Agency.

Following the governor's announcement, the TEA said in a tweet that updated health guidance will be coming later in the week.

Dallas ISD Superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa is reacting to Gov. Greg Abbott's decision to lift the statewide mask mandate come March 10.

"We just need some guidance from the commissioner. Until I'm told otherwise, we're going to expect everyone to wear a mask," the superintendent said. "And if anyone wants to challenge us, we'll handle it on a case by case basis."

It's an outlook shared by Sunnyvale ISD Superintendent Doug Williams. It’s far smaller than Dallas, but it has the same concerns.

"So now we're going to have the opportunity to really starting the mask or no mask debate again unless we get guidance from TEA or somewhere else. So that's really frustrating," he said.

Williams says some 72% of Sunnyvale ISD students have returned to in-person learning. He's worried doing away with masks could reverse course. For now, the mask requirements in his district will remain in place.

"We've just now seen improvements in the last 3 weeks with a decrease in COVID numbers in our town," he said.

Dr. Hinojosa is worried about the possible ramifications for the next school year should masks go away in the classroom anytime soon.

"If we want everyone back in August, we've got to have the discipline to stay the whole year and then in summer recalibrate and have everyone back in August in person," he said. "This could upset that apple cart. I hope not."

Alliance-AFT President Rena Honea brought up concerns about getting teachers vaccinated more quickly.

"We've got educators waiting to get the vaccine that don't have it. Yet, they're essential employees so they're having to go back into the schools. So we feel like that's really very important," she said. "It's a bit confusing for everyone that is school-related."

School superintendents find themselves in a familiar but difficult place as they’re caught in the middle.

"This is not my state," Dr. Hinojosa said. "We'll do what we have to do to make it work."

"Pardon me for being a little frustrated, but this is a frustrating situation," Williams said.

Fort Worth, Allen, Arlington and Denton ISDs all say absent any new guidance from the TEA, all current health and safety protocols will remain in place.