Fort Bend ISD’s board of trustees last week voted to rescind the district’s short-lived mask mandate, despite it not having been in effect for more than three months.
The agenda item calling for a discussion on the district’s mask mandate drew about 20 speakers and again illustrated the deeply partisan divide that has grown in both Fort Bend County and across the country over the issue of masking during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We don’t want your protection,” said Allison Morris, one of the parents who spoke at Tuesday’s board meeting. “We want choice. And masks are hurting my daughter’s learning.”
Trustees needed to readdress the district’s mask mandate because of a recent federal judge’s ruling that declared Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order banning mask mandates violated Americans with disabilities laws, Board President Dave Rosenthal explained.
“We need to provide guidance to district administration on how to proceed from here,” he said.
The board’s decision last week is the latest in a series of events surrounding masks in FBISD. The board in a narrow 4-3 vote in August opted to institute a mask mandate, becoming one of a growing number of Texas school districts to do so, in defiance of Abbott’s executive order banning mask mandates.
Several counties and school districts took the matter to court, arguing Abbott doesn’t have the legal authority to issue executive orders banning mask mandates.
Those legal battles have continued to wage in courts over the last few months. Most recently, a U.S. District Court judge ruled Abbott’s order violated laws guaranteeing those with disabilities had equal access to education, according to a National Public Radio article.
About 48 hours after trustees in FBISD opted to institute a mask mandate, the district nullified the order, arguing the board’s decision was valid only as long as the mandate complied with state law, attorneys for the district explained.
The federal judge’s ruling this month, however, means the district’s mask mandate at least for now complies with state law, Rosenthal said.
Conditions in Fort Bend County have changed since the board voted on the mask mandate, however. Cases of coronavirus have been on the decline since a spike connected to the delta variant, and federal agencies have opened vaccines to children between the ages of 5 and 11, Rosenthal said.
The board ultimately voted 6-0 in favor of rescinding the mandate, with trustee Denetta Williams not voting on the motion.