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Texas' largest school district defies governor, approves mask mandate for students

Houston joins other big cities in the state, including Dallas and Austin, that have already issued mask requirements for students.

In another act of defiance of Texas' ban on mask mandates, Houston school leaders on Thursday night unanimously approved a plan requiring students to wear face coverings once school resumes this month.

The superintendent for Houston Independent School District said this week that he planned on imposing an order that required all students, staff, and visitors to wear masks on district property and buses. The board supported the order in an 8-0 vote.

“The safety of our students and staff will continue to be my guiding compass," Superintendent Millard House II said in a statement. "I am thankful to our Board of Education for supporting our children and families by prioritizing safety above all else."

Houston is the largest district in Texas, with 276 schools. It joins other big cities in the state, including Dallas and Austin, that have already issued mask requirements for students.

The mandate in Houston goes into effect Monday, although classes do not begin until Aug. 23. The requirement is for everybody regardless of their vaccination status.

The district said in a news release that the decision to impose the order comes amid a rise in Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations in Harris County.

Also on Thursday, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced that a mask order was issued for all county schools and child care facilities.

"Pediatric COVID19 cases are at all-time highs in Texas, and most schools haven’t even started yet. We have no choice," Hidalgo tweeted.

According to the county's Public Health Department, there was a 332 percent increase of confirmed coronavirus cases from July 25 to Aug. 8. During that same time period, there was a 180 percent increase in hospitalizations. The department said a " vast majority" of those hospitalized are unvaccinated.

The mask requirements for students are in defiance of an executive order that Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, issued in May barring school districts, as well other government entities, from mandating masks.

Earlier this week, his office released a statement criticizing school districts for violating not only his orders but the rights of parents.

"Governor Abbott has been clear that the time for mask mandates is over; now is the time for personal responsibility. Parents and guardians have the right to decide whether their child will wear a mask or not, just as with any other decision in their child’s life," Abbott's press secretary said via email.

"Governor Abbott has spent his entire time in office fighting for the rights and freedoms of all Texans, and our office continues working with the Office of the Attorney General to do just that. The best defense against this virus is the Covid vaccines, and we continue to strongly encourage all eligible Texans to get vaccinated.”