Mask Rebellion

Dallas ISD superintendent will defy mandate ban as long as he can

Dallas ISD superintendent Michael Hinojosa was facing a new school year situated firmly, it seemed, between a rock and a hard place.

The hard place? Thousands of elementary school students who couldn’t be vaccinated yet, with health experts warning that the new delta variant of COVID-19 was more virulent, less discriminating about age, and dovetailing with a rise in respiratory syncytial virus (or RSV), leaving pediatric ICU beds imperiled.

The rock, it seemed, was an executive order from Gov. Greg Abbott that placed a ban on mandating masks. 

Hinojosa announced on Aug. 9 that, regardless of Abbott’s order, he was issuing an indoor mask requirement for campuses.

 “Despite whatever authority the governor has, he is responsible for the state of Texas, I am responsible for Dallas ISD,” district superintendent Michael Hinojosa said.

The Texas Supreme Court issued a stay on temporary restraining orders on Abbott’s executive order that were obtained by Dallas and Bexar counties.

But with that stay, said the lawyers for several districts, including Dallas ISD, came some movement from that rock. The decision didn’t name any school district. It didn’t name the other two counties. 

The mask mandate for Dallas ISD would stand, Hinojosa announced Aug. 15.

“For me, this is the right thing to do, and as long as I have the ability to do it, I’m going to,” he said. “There’s nothing about school districts in this order, so why would I back off now?”

And while he hasn’t had any communication with Abbott, he did get a voicemail from President Joe Biden.

“The president said he was proud of us for making this opportunity available to our students,” he said of the message. “He thanked me for having the courage to stand up for our students and our community.”

As it stands, roughly 50 school districts so far have enacted mask mandates.

After vowing to stop them, Abbott and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton were dealt an early blow in that effort when the Texas Supreme Court declined to take up their request for a temporary injunction. The decision was based on procedure, the court indicated, citing the state Rules of Appellate Procedure that require petitions be presented first to the court of appeals “unless there is a compelling reason not to do so.”

Hinojosa said that students that didn’t wish to comply with the mask requirement would be dealt with firmly, but also with understanding. They would be offered a mask, and if they continued to refuse, they would be separated from the rest of the students.

“We are going to be nice but firm,” he said. “We are going to ask them to comply and give them a mask. If they don’t, we’ll ask them to leave and if they don’t, then we will have a place for them separated from everyone else. We worked on this protocol all week with our principals because we know someone is going to challenge us.”

This story originally appeared in the September issue of Preston Hollow People.

Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson, Digital Editor at People Newspapers, cut her teeth on community journalism, starting in Arkansas. Recently, she's taken home a few awards for her writing, including first place for her tornado coverage from the National Newspapers Association's 2020 Better Newspaper Contest, a Gold award for Best Series at the 2018 National Association of Real Estate Editors journalism awards, a 2018 Hugh Aynesworth Award for Editorial Opinion from the Dallas Press Club, and a 2019 award from NAREE for a piece linking Medicaid expansion with housing insecurity. She is a member of the Education Writers Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Association of Real Estate Editors, the News Leaders Association, the News Product Alliance, and the Online News Association. She doesn't like lima beans, black licorice or the word synergy. You can reach her at [email protected].

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