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Fort Worth ISD Joins Lawsuit Disputing Governor's Mask Mandate Ban

A woman stands wearing a mask, speaking at a mic on a podium. Behind her, people hold up signs that say "CHOICE NOT MANDATE" and "NO MASK MANDATE." The second sign has a frowny face drawn in the O of NO.
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Fort Worth ISD Board Meeting
Brianna Guerrero speaks in favor of a mask mandate in Fort Worth ISD during a special school board meeting on August 17, 2021.

Fort Worth's school board voted to join La Joya ISD's lawsuit against Gov. Greg Abbott.

At a special meeting that stretched late into Tuesday night, trustees voted 6-2, with one abstention, to join La Joya ISD's lawsuit. It contends that Abbott has no authority to stop school districts from putting mask mandates in place.

Trustee Jacinto Ramos Jr. made the proposal, which Trustee Quinton Phillips supported with enthusiasm. He said the district had to join the lawsuit to keep students and staff safe.

"If they're getting sick in our buildings because we're not doing our job to do everything we can to keep them safe, that is on us," Phillips said.

Abbott’s ban on mask mandates has become a tangled knot of intersecting legal battles as local governments across Texas challenge it.

On Aug. 10, FWISD Superintendent Kent P. Scribner defied Abbott’s order and announced the district would require all students, employees and visitors to wear masks indoors to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Four Fort Worth ISD parents filed a 230-page petition to block Scribner’s mandate, in part because it went against Abbott’s order.

Judge John Chupp sided with those parents and blocked the mandate, scheduling a further hearing on Aug. 26.

The district released a statement agreeing to honor the judge’s order.

“Nevertheless, FWISD strongly recommends that all students, parents, employees and visitors, please, consider the importance of wearing a face mask while we are still in the midst of the pandemic and COVID cases remain high,” the statement read.

The school year started in person on Monday as more and more children in North Texas are being hospitalized with COVID-19. On Saturday, parents protested outside school board president Tobi Jackson’s house, calling for COVID-19 protections for their kids.

Many Points Of View

Tuesday’s school board meeting was contentious as parents, teachers and community members stood up to share their views. People cheered and jeered, and at one point, Jackson asked security to escort someone out.

Many asked the school board to defy the court order and put the mask mandate back in place, pointing out that children under 12 are not yet eligible to be vaccinated.

Brianna Guerrero said if the district won’t offer virtual learning options, a mask mandate is the least it can do.

“What does it cost you to be decent human beings? To put our kids first?” she asked the board.

Elise Greer, a Fort Worth student, said she wanted the mask mandate so she wouldn’t have to learn from home again.

“Last year, I wasn’t able to go to school and eat lunch with friends. I wasn’t able to just have fun. I couldn’t do this because a new disease was spreading throughout the world and killing so, so many people,” she said.

And that hasn’t stopped.

“That’s why we need this mask mandate. Because I want to stay at my high school,” Greer said. “I want to do so much, but I will not be able to do this if I am not safe.”

Others rankled at the idea of the school district telling them what to do. One man, a father of five, said mask-wearing should be a matter of individual choice.

“It is as much a right to have your child wear a mask as it is mine, as a parent, to decline on behalf of my child,” he said.

He also criticized Superintendent Scribner for flouting Gov. Abbott’s ban on mask mandates. Other speakers called on Scribner to resign, or for the district to fire him.

Got a tip? Email Miranda Suarez at msuarez@kera.org. You can follow Miranda on Twitter @MirandaRSuarez.

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