Gov. Greg Abbott turned heads with a controversial executive order that lifts a mandate on face masks, but school districts can largely continue requiring them, according to Texas Education Agency (TEA) guidance.
TEA updated its recommendations on Wednesday, two days after Abbot issued his executive order rescinding limitations put on businesses to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. While Abbott “strongly encouraged” people to continue wearing masks, they are no longer required. However, his order adds that businesses or “other establishments” can continue to require employees and customers to wear masks.
Local school boards also retain the authority to determine their mask policies, TEA clarified, and can continue their current practices.
Abbott first ordered the use of face coverings on July 2. TEA has since required all school district students, teachers and staff members to wear masks over their noses and mouths when inside any school building, facility or outdoor space on school property, when it is not possible to maintain a physical distancing of six feet from another person who does not live in the same household.
Like in other states, exemptions include people who have medical conditions or disabilities that prevent mask-wearing as well as anyone who is eating or drinking, exercising outdoors, or giving a speech to an audience. However, TEA’s guidance also exempts students 10 years old or younger, except when a school district deems a mask “developmentally appropriate.”
Transportation guidance also remains unchanged. TEA advises keeping school bus windows open to encourage outside air circulation and reducing school bus passengers by encouraging students to walk or parents to drop them off at school. For students who do ride the school bus, school districts are encouraged to require the application of hand sanitizer when boarding.
TEA leaves school bus cleaning to the discretion of school districts, while at the same time recognizing the latest federal guidance that COVID-19 does not easily spread on surfaces and “increased cleaning practices may not be beneficial in reducing spread.”
Meanwhile, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves also ended mask mandates for all counties this week. But the executive order excludes school districts when physical distancing of six feet is not possible, a Mississippi Department of Education spokesperson confirmed for School Transportation News.
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