A northeast Texas school district recently made facial coverings a required part of the district dress code in a bid to circumvent Gov. Greg Abbott's ban on mask mandates.
"For health reasons, masks are required for all employees and students to mitigate flu, cold, pandemic, and any other communicable diseases," Paris Independent School District board member Dr. Bert Strom said in a motion during an emergency meeting on Tuesday.
His motion to add masks to the dress code was later approved in a 5-1 vote, the Paris News reported. The unusual measure was an obvious retaliation against Abbott's statewide order, issued late last month.
In an accompanying statement, board members argued that nothing in the governor's order allows him to usurp its authority over schools in the district.
"The Board believes the dress code can be used to mitigate communicable health issues, and therefore has amended the PISD dress code to protect our students and employees," the board said.
"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. Nothing in the Governor's Executive Order 38 states he has suspended Chapter 11 of the Texas Education Code, and therefore the Board has elected to amend its dress code consistent with its statutory authority," it added.
The news comes as Abbott's mask mandate ban faces legal challenges in the state's court system. The ban was subjected to a temporary restraining order by a district court judge last week as coronavirus cases were on the rise in the state. But on Sunday, the Texas Supreme Court sided with the governor, upholding the ban.
The Paris school board's move was touted by some but reviled by others. Among the critics was parent Joshua Vorron, who told the Paris News that his child suffered mental health consequences as a result of the district's mask mandate last year.
"Shame on you," Vorron reportedly said as he exited the board meeting following the vote.
He, along with "several parents and staff members," urged the board to allow families to decide for themselves whether or not their children should wear a facial covering, the outlet reported.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other public health agencies have recently re-upped recommendations that Americans wear masks indoors to prevent the spread of the Delta variant, even if they're vaccinated.
Abbott, in defense of his ban on mask mandates, has characterized the issue as a choice between freedom and control.
"The path forward relies on personal responsibility — not government mandates," he said earlier this month, according to NBC News.
The governor, who is vaccinated, announced on Tuesday that he had contracted COVID-19 in a "breakthrough" infection.