As COVID cases grow, Fort Worth ISD joins lawsuit challenging Abbott orders while city, county wait

The Fort Worth City Council narrowly voted against a mask mandate inside city buildings on a 5-4 vote on Tuesday. Around the same time, the Tarrant County Commissioners Court decided against a mandate as well.

Tarrant County reported 1,300 new cases of coronavirus on Tuesday. About 40% of Tarrant County residents have been fully vaccinated.

On Tuesday night, the Fort Worth ISD Board of Education voted to join the La Joya ISD, et al. and Shanetra Miles-Fowler, et al. v. Abbott litigation currently pending in Travis County. That lawsuit challenges Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order prohibiting mask madates.

“I hate masks,” said Fort Worth ISD Trustee Anne Darr in a news release from the district. “But the thing I hate more is sick children. As a parent, why would I ignore the pleas of our medical community to wear masks. It is my duty to support a mask mandate.”

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The district previously issued a mask mandate but was blocked from implementing that requirement before the school year started by the 141st District Court in Tarrant County.

“I am appalled that the law is not protecting our children,” said Trustee Roxanne Martinez. “Parents, we need to mask up our children to keep them safe.”

“I hate that we’ve politicized a public health crisis,” said Trustee Quinton “Q” Phillips. “[Masking] is a tool to help make sure a child does not end up in an ICU. This is only about what is right for everyone.”

The vote was six in favor, one opposed and one abstention. Board members asked district leadership to bring a report to the board for virtual learning at the next meeting.

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The Fort Worth ISD vote comes as the new school year begins for Texas students and mask mandates are debated in various state courts. At least four school districts have already closed campuses due to COVID-19 outbreaks.

The shutdowns are taking place as more school districts and communities continued this week to defy Abbott’s ban on mask mandates by requiring students and residents to wear face coverings. Tuesday afternoon, Abbott’s office announced he had tested positive for COVID-19. Abbott, who is vaccinated, was experiencing no symptoms.

The school district in Gorman, located about 70 miles east of Abilene, had been set to begin the new school year on Wednesday but is now delaying that by a week “due to positive COVID cases within the school community of both faculty and students,” Superintendent Mike Winter said in a statement.

In East Texas, the Bloomburg school district announced it was shut down this week “due to the number of staff members out with COVID.” Classes had started on Aug. 9.

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About 60 miles south of Bloomburg, the Waskom school district’s elementary campus was closed due to the “number of staff members out with COVID,” said Superintendent Rae Ann Patty. Classes in Waskom had started Aug. 11.

These school districts join the Iraan-Sheffield Independent School District in West Texas, which on Monday announced it would close schools for two weeks so students and staff could quarantine due to COVID-19. Classes had started on Aug. 10.

Mask wearing was optional in these four school districts. At least 21 other Texas school districts, including some of the state’s biggest, have instituted mask mandates in violation of Abbott’s executive order banning such measures.

With the debate over mandatory mask wearing in Texas school districts continued being litigated in various courts around the state the issue is expected to ultimately be decided by the Texas Supreme Court, which has already halted mask mandates in two of the state’s largest counties. One of those two counties, Dallas, has brushed aside the high court’s order while another, Bexar, on Monday won a temporary injunction against Abbott’s order.

The push by some school districts and counties for mask mandates comes as hospitals across the state continue to be flooded with COVID-19 patients.

In the 25-county region around Houston, 629 COVID patients are waiting for beds but can’t get admitted to a hospital, Dr. David Persse, who is health authority for the Houston Health Department and EMS medical director, said Tuesday. An additional 112 patients are waiting for ICU beds, he said.

On Tuesday, state health officials reported 12,227 COVID-19 hospitalizations in Texas, the first time the state had surpassed 12,000 since Jan. 27. Since June 27, when hospitalizations had been at their lowest point in more than a year, they have jumped by 756%. State health officials reported 24,422 new and probable cases on Tuesday.

Texas health officials have requested five mortuary trailers from the federal government as COVID-19 cases continue soaring and hospitalizations reach the highest levels since January.

In the Eanes school district in Austin, which is requiring masks, a parent “physically assaulted” one teacher by ripping a mask off her face while another teacher was yelled at by other parents because they couldn’t understand what the teacher was saying while she wore a mask, Superintendent Tom Leonard said in a statement. The first day of classes in the Eanes district was not until Wednesday.

“This type of behavior will not be tolerated in Eanes ISD. Our staff are on the front lines of this pandemic; let’s give them some space and grace. Please, I am asking everyone to be kind…do not fight mask wars in our schools,” Leonard said.

On Monday, the Round Rock and West Oso school districts became the latest to defy Abbott and require students and staff to wear masks.

The San Antonio school district, which also has a mask mandate, on Monday announced it was requiring all staff to become vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 15.

In West Texas, El Paso County officials announced that starting Wednesday they would require masks be worn inside all indoor facilities, including schools.

In Harris County, where Houston is located, officials on Tuesday announced $100 gift cards for anyone getting a vaccine as part of their efforts to boost vaccination rates.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.