AUSTIN, Texas — Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued an Executive Order Tuesday to stop most government entities from making masks mandatory.
Beginning May 21, officials who continue to require masks could be fined up to $1,100, Abbott said in the order.
Editor's note: The video above originally aired on May 17.
The order includes counties, cities, school districts, public health authorities and government officials but there are a few exemptions.
Public schools can continue to follow current mask-wearing guidelines through June 4. After June 4, no student, teacher, parent, or other staff member or visitor can be required to wear a mask while on campus.
Texas State Teachers Association President Ovidia Molina called Abbott's action "premature" because most students age 12 and up haven't been vaccinated yet.
"The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that schools require masks and social distancing for the remainder of the school year because many students have not been vaccinated and will not complete their two-dose regimen of Pfizer vaccines until well into the summer," Molina said. "And many of these children will be attending in-person summer school."
We reached out to the Texas Education Agency but they declined to comment.
- State-supported living centers
- Government-owned or operated hospitals
- Texas Department of Criminal Justice facilities
- Texas Juvenile Justice Department facilities
- County and municipal jails.
"The Lone Star State continues to defeat COVID-19 through the use of widely-available vaccines, antibody therapeutic drugs, and safe practices utilized by Texans in our communities," said Governor Abbott. "Texans, not government, should decide their best health practices, which is why masks will not be mandated by public school districts or government entities. We can continue to mitigate COVID-19 while defending Texans' liberty to choose whether or not they mask up."
Tiffany Garay, a mother of five whose 4-year-old, AJ, was born with a congenital heart defect, said she was disappointed to hear about Abbott’s decision.
AJ has had several open heart surgeries already, is immunocompromised and is in palliative care. His four siblings are healthy, but Garay said she’s worried about them going to school when other kids aren’t wearing masks.
“They are already feeling very excluded from a lot of things,” Garay said. “Now you’re making them feel even more excluded. It’s just about people having some empathy. There needs to be a compromise somewhere.”
On the other side, Diana Miller, a former teacher with three school-aged grandchildren, said the masks, social distancing and other protective measures, have taken a mental health toll on the kids and welcomed the Executive Order.
“When I saw that I thought, thank God the governor has done it,” Miller said. “It has been a constant struggle trying to make the children feel as normal as possible.
Miller said the mask mandate at Fort Bend ISD has contributed to her 8-year-old grandchild’s worries, especially.
“Everybody wants to follow the rules and be safe, but it just seems that the mental health part of it has been excluded," she said.
Children can catch COVID-19 and become very ill or die, however, doctors say cases tend to be more mild overall.
“We can’t have them living in fear if the fear isn’t that justified,” Miller said.
Here is the full statement from TSTA:
"The Texas State Teachers Association believes Gov. Greg Abbott’s order ending all masking requirements in Texas public schools, effective June 4, is premature. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that schools require masks and social distancing for the remainder of the school year because many students have not been vaccinated and will not complete their two-dose regimen of Pfizer vaccines until well into the summer. And many of these children will be attending in-person summer school.
FDA approval for vaccinating children aged 12-15 was issued only last week, and there has been no approval for vaccinating children younger than 12.
The governor should have waited until the CDC issues new mask guidelines for the 2021-22 school year before acting on masking requirements in public schools. We know some school districts already have ended their mask mandates, and we believe that also is ill-advised. The health and safety of our students, educators and communities must remain our first priority as we attempt to emerge from this pandemic."