Parents and students hoping to be rid of the pandemic mask mandate in Houston ISD schools will have to wait until after the winter holiday break to find out if that will be happening. For now, HISD Superintendent Millard House II's administration is staying the course.
A statement released Thursday by the HISD press office references the Wednesday action by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, saying that despite this decision, anyone on an HISD campus will continue to be required to wear a mask. The decision comes as reports of a new mutation of the virus — omicron — have rung alarm bells globally, although experts have stressed no one know yet how severe it is, how transmissible, or whether the present COVID vaccines protect against it.
The latest report from the Texas Medical Center for the week of November 22, shows a slight increase in the positivity rate from the week before (2.7 percent as compared to 2.6 percent) and the all important "effective reproduction rate" holding at 1.0. If it goes above 1.0, that means the virus is spreading.
According to the HISD statement, HISD has the lowest rate of COVID-19 cases in the state. While many other districts followed Gov. Abbott's executive order which decreed that no school district could mandate the wearing of masks, HISD has maintained the requirement, citing public health experts recommendations.
The statement from HISD:
Yesterday, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals temporarily halted the enforcement of a federal injunction against Governor Gregg Abbott’s executive order that seeks to prohibit public school districts from mandating the wearing of face masks, pending the Court’s full review of the matter. The ruling does not impact the requirement that students, staff, and visitors must wear masks while on HISD property. This mandate remains in place for HISD schools.
While we are heartened that we have maintained the lowest rate of active COVID-19 cases in the state and vaccinations are now available for our youngest students, HISD’s mask mandate will remain in place for students, staff, and visitors in all HISD schools, buildings, and buses regardless of vaccination status. We will review all data trends related to COVID-19 after the holidays and through the first semester of classes to determine if any changes need to be made to our safety protocols.
HISD, along with other school districts, is a party to a separate lawsuit in state court that is not based on the federal laws protecting students with disabilities. Rather, it is based on state law, and the right of local districts to make health and safety decisions regarding their students. The HISD litigation is pending.
The specific case involved in the Fifth Circuit ruling was brought by Disability Rights Texas, a nonprofit organization, that supports the rights of students with special needs arguing that these students are at high risk of COVID and should be able to attend schools in person as safely as possible under federal law.