Education legislation

The Salado Independent School District withdrew its local mask policy on Sunday — a move made in response to the expiration of temporary restraining orders against Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s Executive Order GA-38.

“As of now, there are only limited legal arguments for having a mask mandate,” Salado ISD Superintendent Michael Novonty said. “As a result, effective Sept. 19, we are no longer enforcing our local policy requiring masks, pending the Texas Supreme Court’s disposition of the cases before it involving this issue.”

In late August, Salado ISD trustees approved COVID-19 protocols that required the use of masks if certain infection thresholds are reached.

“As long as the percentage of the school’s population that test positive for COVID-19 within a 7-calendar-day period remains below 2 percent, masks would continue to be optional,” according to Salado ISD. “If 2 percent of a school’s population tests positive for COVID-19 within a 7-day period, then all employees, students and visitors on campus would be required to wear a face covering for seven calendar days or until the percentage drops below 2 percent, whichever is longer.”

The policy was adopted after the Texas Education Agency informed school districts that Abbott’s Executive Order GA-38 would not be enforced during ongoing litigations.

Novotny — who said he has received many comments from many parents about their approvals or disapprovals of mandates masks — believed this policy was an appropriate balance between public health and personal freedom.

“The 2 percent threshold allows personal freedom to choose whether or not to wear masks as long as the number of cases remain low and only requires masks when the number of cases is higher to avoid major outbreaks and the possibility of having to close our schools,” he said in a letter to the Salado ISD community.

However, only Salado Middle School has reached the 2 percent threshold this year, according to Salado ISD.

“We had our middle school get to the 2 percent threshold (in September), so we required masks for one week … which was really only four school days because of Labor Day,” Novotny previously told the Telegram.

He said that response to a campus surge in COVID-19 infections is what landed the district on Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s list of government entities unlawfully imposing mask mandates.

Although these protocols are dismissed for now, the Salado ISD superintendent hopes to reinstate the policy if “current litigation provides legal support for doing so.”

There are currently 22 active lawsuits in Texas state courts regarding the ban of mask mandates by government entities: seven filed by school districts, cities and counties with mask mandates against Abbott; 11 filed by Paxton against 14 school districts with mask mandates; three filed by parents against school districts with mask mandates; and one filed by parents against their children’s school district for not instituting a mask mandate.

Novotny — who encourages the district’s campus populations to continue wearing masks when appropriate, physically distancing and opting for a COVID-19 vaccine — hopes to see rulings on these lawsuits within the next couple of weeks.

“I hope all of you stay healthy and continue to have a great school year,” he said in his letter.

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