UPDATE: After a two-hour special meeting that included public comment and an executive session discussion behind closed doors, the Socorro Independent School District Board of Trustees took no action "regarding mask policies for all students and personnel" - which was the lone item on their agenda.
You can watch the entire meeting in the video player below.
ORIGINAL REPORT: EL PASO, Texas -- The Socorro Independent School District could be the first El Paso area district to impose a mask mandate in defiance of the Texas governor’s order barring schools from requiring face coverings.
The SISD Board of Trustees was having “discussion and possible action regarding mask policies for all students and personnel in SISD,” according to Tuesday evening’s special meeting agenda.
The SISD board meeting got underway at 6 p.m. in the District Service Center Board Room at 12440 Rojas Drive.
It’s unclear whether trustees plan on putting a mask mandate to a vote. Board President David Morales said in a text message that “no decision has been made.”
Tuesday evening’s special meeting comes as superintendents and local officials push back against Gov. Greg Abbott’s mask mandate ban as more students return to campuses amid a rise in coronavirus cases.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that students, teachers and staff wear a mask inside schools, regardless of vaccination status. The Covid-19 vaccine is not available for students younger than 12.
The Dallas Independent School District was the first in the state to challenge Abbott’s order on Monday when Superintendent Michael Hinojosa announced a mask policy for students, teachers and staff. That evening, Austin Independent School District Superintendent Stephanie Elizade said her district would also require masks.
A Bexar County district judge on Tuesday temporarily allowed the city of San Antonio and Bexar County to issue mask mandates for districts. It’s unclear how that ruling could affect other districts.
El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser and County Judge Ricardo Samaniego have asked the governor to give local officials the power to decide what’s best for their communities. Most El Paso students returned to school Aug. 2, with some districts starting July 26.
Leeser and Samaniego could not immediately be reached Tuesday about whether they would issue their own mandates in the wake of the judge’s ruling.
El Paso’s three largest districts, El Paso, Socorro and Ysleta, reported close to 40 Covid-19 cases among students and staff at the end of their first week back.
Abbott has only doubled down on his position that districts and municipalities cannot set mask or vaccine mandates, even as the increase in cases threatens to overwhelm hospitals.
When asked about school districts taking matters into their own hands, Abbott’s office only said they shouldn’t go against the governor’s orders.
“We are all working to protect Texas children and those most vulnerable among us, but violating the Governor’s executive orders — and violating parental rights — is not the way to do it,” Abbott’s spokesperson, Renae Eze, said in a statement. “Governor Abbott has been clear that the time for mask mandates is over; now is the time for personal responsibility.”
Government entities that defy his order are at risk of a $1,000 fine, though it’s unclear how the penalty would be applied to districts.
Georgina Pérez, who represents El Paso on the State Board of Education, is fundraising to collect money in support of districts who flout the governor’s order. She declined to say how much she has raised since launching the fundraiser on Aug. 2
“Governor Abbott’s latest politically driven order will kill people. Period,” she wrote in her funding call. “Local leaders of good conscience are obligated to ignore this fraud and act on their own to safeguard the lives of our precious children and the educators who serve them.”