Amid the resurgence of COVID-19 cases in the United States driven by the Delta variant, at least 2,000 parents of students who are set to return to classes next month are taking radical steps to compel Texas Governor Greg Abbott to reverse the state’s policy restricting the use of protective masks and allow school districts to make judgment calls regarding the matter.
In a petition, the parents of the kids who are set to troop back to in-person classes in September also asked the Texas Education Agency to support their call for a reversal of a mask ban and allow school districts to mandate them among teachers, school personnel, and students who are now even eligible to receive the vaccine.
Taking a cue from the medical officials who earlier issued a warning over the risks of the highly contagious Delta variant, the petitioners said: “No child in Texas should needlessly suffer from contracting this deadly virus. Sending children back to school without sound mitigation measures in place could well lead to an even higher positivity rate, long-COVID cases, elevated hospitalization rates, and more deaths.”
Among those who formed part of the group which initiated the petition is Kelley Boston, an epidemiologist and expert who works with local hospitals and other organizations on disease control.
Boston said that until after the State Department issues clearance for the vaccination of the students, masking remains the only line of defense for elementary-aged students against the virus.
“We want to send our kids back to school. But we have limited options for protection in school settings…we can mask, vaccinate, we can socially distance, but only one of those is an option in our elementary schools right now,” Boston added.
The Texas governor issued a mask ban in May 2021. Moreover, restrictions were imposed upon counties, cities, school districts, public health authorities, and government officials from pushing people to wear masks, or face a $1,000 fine.
Interestingly, recent figures took Texas at the center stage as it posted higher numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases, deaths, and hospital admissions due to coronavirus infections, as compared to New York.
However, Abbott stood firm in his decision to enforce the mask ban, citing “personal responsibility,” not government mandates, as the state’s key weapon of defense.
Oddly though, Abbott’s position does not conform with what the medical expert Dr. Peter Hotez has to say — Delta variant is “like nothing we’ve seen before,” so expect rise in hospitalizations.
In a July 29 social media post, Abbott was quoted as saying: “I issued an executive order providing uniformity in Texas’ COVID response—we must rely on personal responsibility, not gov’t mandates.”
“Texans will decide for themselves whether they’ll wear masks & open businesses. Vaccines are the best defense & will always remain voluntary,” Abbott’s Twitter post stated.
So far, more than 2,000 parents have affixed their signatures calling on the Governor and the TEA to recall the ban and allow K-12 public schools the freehand to enforce their own mandates ahead of the upcoming school year. Organizers have reportedly been hurdling to get more parents to sign the petition which is due for submission to Abbott and TEA Commissioner Mike Morath on Monday, August 9.
“Abbott has made statements on relying on personal responsibility, but when you are looking at that age group, they are limited in how much they can advocate for their own safety. It’s hard for a second grader to ask an adult to put on a mask,” lamented Boston who went on to say that allowing districts to impose their own mask recommendations would protect not only students but also members of the community, especially immunocompromised family members.
“This is a way to protect not only our children but those they come into contact with [as] many of those kids can spread COVID to others. We need to make our voices heard and really advocate for our smallest Texans,” she quipped.