Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order preventing public entities from requiring face masks during the pandemic threw a bit of a wrench in Central Texas College’s reopening plans, college officials learned last week.
On May 18, Abbott issued executive order 36, effective June 5, prohibiting governmental entities and officials from mandating face coverings or restricting activities in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Central Texas College Deputy Chancellor Michele Carter told the CTC board of trustees Tuesday that Abbott’s order “significantly affected” the college’s reopening plans.
“During the (board) workshop on May 18, I gave you an update on our response to COVID and our reopening plan, but at that very moment the Governor was issuing an executive order preventing governmental entities from requiring masks at their locations,” Carter said Tuesday. “That significantly affected us, in that much of our reopening plan was contingent upon being able to require folks to wear masks.”
Prior to the governor’s order, CTC’s plan was to require students to wear masks inside the classroom.
“In classrooms there won’t be any social distancing, there’s no way to do social distancing,” Carter told the board during the May 18 workshop, adding that “any student who isn’t comfortable has the opportunity to take the classes online.”
In light of the statewide mask executive order, Carter said Tuesday the college will continue with its plan to hold face-to-face classes for summer and fall semesters, while keeping sanitation a top priority.
“What we’re currently doing is re-evaluating the health and safety protocols, as well as the workplace environment and our facilities cleaning,” she said. “I can assure you that there is no plan to change the course, it’s just how we respond now. What we’re doing is working with Mr. Harmsen on the continued cleaning and disinfecting protocols, and with Ms. Jordan for the reporting.”
CTC is currently in Stage 5, which began on Jan. 4, of the college’s reopening plan with a goal to be at Stage 6, fully reopened, by Aug. 23, the first day of the fall semester. Some CTC buildings have already reopened, including CTC’s dining hall, while the school’s residence hall, Morton Hall and bookstore will reopen in coming weeks and months.
Carter told board members that the college’s COVID cases are a reminder that “we’re still in a pandemic.”
“Just so you know, the day after the order was issued, we had a positive case on our campus,” she said. “We had an individual who was actually conducting an orientation, so there were many people present, then the very next day we had another positive case. The order was issued on the 18th. On the 19th, we had a case, and on the 20th we had a case, after two weeks with no cases.”
Carter said people will have to take “personal responsibility” for their safety as the college navigates reopening during the pandemic.
“We will not implement any procedures or guidelines that could potentially put our staff, particularly our campus police or our faculty, in a contentious or confrontational situation with people,” she said. “We’re not going to try to necessarily govern what they do. We are going to focus on the things we can control.”
CTC Chancellor Jim Yeonopolus said the college’s reopening plan is a decision that was not “made in isolation.”
“It’s not done lightly,” Yeonopolus told the board Tuesday.
Board member Brenda Coley told the board she was pleased with the college’s reopening plan.
“I’m just thankful that we’re not going to make our instructors mask police,” she said.
CTC spokesman Bruce Vasbinder told the Herald Wednesday, “As for the mask/face covering change, CTC administration is still revising the campus plan based on the change in mask from mandatory to optional.”