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Students wear face coverings at a school in Texas.

Students in East Bernard, Texas wear face coverings at school on August 28, 2020. The school board in Paris, Texas voted on Tuesday to include face masks in the district's dress code as a workaround to Gov. Greg Abbott's ban on mask mandates. (Photo: Tim Warner/Getty Images)

Finding Loophole in Abbott's Mask Mandate Ban, Texas School Board Adds Face Coverings to Dress Code

"If your dress code can enforce skirt lengths, it can enforce masks."

Julia Conley

Students and school staff in Paris, Texas will be required to wear face coverings starting Thursday despite Republican Gov. Greg Abbott's attempt to ban mask mandates, following a school board vote in favor of using a loophole to protect public health: the board voted on Tuesday to include mask-wearing in the district's dress code. 

Following the 5-1 vote, the Paris Independent School District will amend its dress code to read, "For health reasons, masks are required for all employees and students to mitigate flu, cold, pandemic, and any other communicable diseases."
 

"The Texas governor does not have the authority to usurp the Board of Trustees' exclusive power and duty to govern and oversee the management of the public schools of the district."
—Paris Independent School District

 
"The Texas governor does not have the authority to usurp the Board of Trustees' exclusive power and duty to govern and oversee the management of the public schools of the district," the district said in a statement. 
 
The board reasoned that Abbott's executive order does not include a suspension of the Texas Education Code, which clearly states that boards of trustees in the state's public school districts govern the schools. 
 
"Therefore the Board has elected to amend its dress code consistent with its statutory authority," said the officials.
 
As right-wing governors including Abbott, Florida's Ron DeSantis, and Arizona's Doug Ducey have attempted to stop school districts from requiring face coverings to mitigate the spread of Covid-19 among children who don't yet have access to vaccines, a number of districts have announced they will defy the orders—with some risking state funding to protect public health and safety. 
 
In Texas, Abbott's order has faced legal challenges from officials in San Antonio and Bexar County and Disability Rights Texas. The advocacy group sued the governor on Wednesday, arguing the mask mandate ban puts children with disabilities at a higher risk for Covid-19 and violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.
 
The state Supreme Court temporarily upheld the governor's executive order on Sunday.
 
At the school board meeting in Paris on Tuesday, medical professionals from the community were among those demanding that masks be included in the dress code to allow the district to comply with guidance released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in July, which advised universal masking in public schools.
 
One doctor at Paris Regional Medical Center told the trustees that the current local outbreak of Covid-19 forced the hospital to find additional ventilators, with more than 500 active cases in the community. Only 29% of all residents in Lamar County, where Paris lies, are fully vaccinated against Covid-19. Among children ages 12 and up, 35% are vaccinated. 
 
According to the CDC, there were nearly 800 children across Texas who were hospitalized with Covid-19 between July 1 and August 9. 
 
Amid the right-wing attacks on mask mandates in recent weeks as children across the country prepare to return to in-person schooling, some commentators have noted that school districts have for decades mandated what students can and can't wear to school through strict dress codes. The Paris Independent School District bars students from wearing pants with holes or frayed areas, tank tops, and skirts or dresses that fall more than three inches above the knee.
 
"If your dress code can enforce skirt lengths, it can enforce masks," tweeted social justice advocate and philathropist Minh Ngo in response to the school board's vote. 

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