DALLAS - It was the first day of school on Monday for 37 school districts around North Texas, including Dallas and Fort Worth.
In fact, it was the third first day of school for Dallas ISD, which has three separate calendars this year. Some campuses opened early to help with learning loss. The bulk of Dallas ISD’s schools – 180 out of 226 campuses – had their first day on Monday.
For the most part, masks were optional for the hundreds of thousands of students and teachers returning to the classroom Monday morning.
Dallas ISD and Richardson ISD are the only ones in Dallas County to keep up their mask mandate. They will continue to mandate masks at least for now because the stay order issued by the Texas Supreme Court Sunday did not mention any specific school district.
"We are going to continue with the mask mandate at this time," said Superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa. "The order that was issued by the Supreme Court was issued to Dallas County and it’s listed as Clay Jenkins and the county. It did not say one word about DISD in that order."
Dr. Hinojosa said he got a call from President Joe Biden who said he was "very proud" of what the district was doing.
"I knew it was going to be controversial because of the nature of it, but that is not why I am doing it," the superintendent said.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton tweeted in response to the news calling Dallas ISD "lawless." He also sent a letter to other parties in the state ordering their acknowledgment of the Texas Supreme Court's order by 4 p.m. Monday.
Dr. Hinojosa says the district is looking into a virtual learning option for about 10,000 students. It would cost the district $100 million. If the state doesn't step in, Hinojosa says they'll use rainy day funds. He acknowledged the mask debate is far from over.
Based on the governor’s order, the district faces fines for a mask requirement.
"If I have to pay out of my pocket, it’s the right thing to do," the superintendent said.
Hinojosa says multiple people have contacted the district saying they will pay the fines.
But 13 emails from parents were sent Hinojosa on Monday saying they will sue him for his order. He says he will only rescind his order if the Texas Supreme Court orders him to.
"All it would be is me acquiescing because I don't believe that is the right thing to do," he said.
Richardson ISD Superintendent Jeannie Stone told parents Monday that masks are mandatory for staff and students starting Tuesday.
"This ruling, at least temporarily, puts the decision where it should be: on the local level," she said.
In a video statement to parents before the first day of school, Stone says there are already 99 COVID-19 cases in the district.
"I know everyone does not agree with this course," she said. "The situation continues to change, and we are doing what the law currently allows to protect students and our healthcare system."
Most campuses, though, are still strongly encouraging masks. Each district is closely following the legal back and forth.
Fort Worth students also headed back to school on Monday. Masks were optional there, thanks to a lawsuit by a handful of parents.
A judge sided with the parents who filed a lawsuit to stop the district’s mask mandate. The attorney for the parents argued that FWISD Superintendent Kent Scribner had acted outside his authority in requiring masks.
"The courts ruled we could not require masks, however, we are going to strongly encourage our students, faculty and staff to wear masks indoors and on buses," Scribner said.
Parent Mitch Weverka says he doesn’t feel comfortable.
"We feel like we deserve to feel comfortable in the environment they are required to be in," he said.
That’s why on Monday Weverka says he made the decision to keep his two children home along with an unknown number of families.
There is no virtual option.
Still, tens of thousands of Fort Worth students did show up for the first day of classes Monday where masks are strongly encouraged but not mandatory.
Some parents say they plan to be vocal at a Tuesday special school board meeting centered around mask wearing moving forward.
At last week’s meeting, Dr. Scribner defied Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order banning mask mandates, issuing one for the district.
But Friday, a judge sided with a small group of parents suing to stop the mandate and the district said it would honor the ruling.
One of the plaintiffs is Jennifer Treger.
"I think that every parent is capable of deciding what they think is best for their own child," she said.
Monday morning, Dr. Scribner was out welcoming students.
"We want to get all of our students back in person," he said.
Fort Worth ISD Board Member Roxanne Martinez revealed she’s keeping her kids at home without a mask mandate, writing "it’s time to vote out folks that won’t protect our kids and families."
Meanwhile, Weverka says he’s staying firm.
"We will not send our kids to school until they are vaccinated," he said.
Kaitlen O’Connell Owens said she is disappointed with the current optional mask policy for schools and is worried about her kids’ safety. But her options are limited without home or virtual learning in Fort Worth.
"It’s incredibly frustrating," she said. "I’m feeling very panicked and a bit paralyzed without the very least a mask mandate. I feel like we’re sending our kids into a mushroom cloud especially without a virtual option which a lot of us are wanting."
Other districts that started Monday included Arlington, Irving, DeSoto, Carroll, Greenville, Kaufman, Eagle Mountain-Saginaw, Lancaster and Midlothian.