Public health, politics and education made for an uncomfortable mix in many parts of the country Monday as hundreds of thousands of K-12 students returned to school amid a major surge in coronavirus infections.
Confusion reigned in several Texas school districts after the state Supreme Court stopped mask mandates in two of the largest districts before the first day of school in Dallas. An Arizona judge upheld, at least temporarily, a mask mandate in a Phoenix district despite a new state law prohibiting such requirements. One Colorado county posted sheriff’s deputies in schools on the first day of classes as a precaution after parents protested a last-minute mask mandate.
After the coronavirus pandemic forced widespread school shutdowns and remote learning for several months, the new academic year is facing various disruptions partly created by the virus.
Some early-starting districts have already closed schools because of outbreaks, while others are trying to weather them. In South Carolina, the governor and the General Assembly are getting pressured to lift a ban on school mask mandates as infections mount.
Nowhere did Monday’s battles play out greater than in Texas, where some counties and school districts kept in place mask mandates banned by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott and others rescinded them as schools reopened after Sunday’s court ruling.
The order by the state’s highest court — made up entirely of elected Republican justices — halted mask requirements that county leaders in Dallas and San Antonio, which are run by Democrats, put in place as new infections soared. Lower-court orders had allowed the two cities — as well as other jurisdictions across Texas — to impose the mandates.
Dallas school officials were among those defying the court order, and in Austin, students and parents gathered outside the Governor’s Mansion to urge Abbott to drop his opposition to the mandates. The Austin school district and Harris County, which includes Houston, also said their mask mandates for schools remained in place.
“We’re at war on behalf of moms and dads and kids against a deadly virus,'' Dallas county Judge Clay Jenkins said. "I sure wish the governor would join our side in the battle.”