Texas Gov. Greg Abbott Banned Mask Mandates. Schools Pushed Back—and Won, for Now.

Dozens of districts had been requiring masks, defying the governor’s executive order.

Eric Gay/AP

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While Texas Gov. Greg Abbott rides out a case of COVID-19 in quarantine, one of his prized policies crumbled under the pressure of various legal challenges: his push to prevent schools from imposing mask mandates.

Back in July, Abbott released an executive order banning any government agency, including school districts, from requiring masks to enter public buildings. As the Delta variant of the coronavirus ripped through the state, dozens of cities, counties, and school districts issued mask mandates anyway, defying the governor. On Thursday—shortly after the Texas Supreme Court temporarily struck down Abbott’s order on a technicality—the Texas Education Agency announced it would stop enforcing the rule for school districts, because of the “ongoing litigation” it had inspired. 

Abbott can’t be accused of hypocrisy regarding his anti-mask position. In the days leading up to the fully vaccinated governor’s breakthrough case, he “commemorated the anniversary of India’s independence with a crowd in his office,” “mingled with hundreds of Republican supporters at a packed campaign event,” and “posed with the brother of the famed guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan,” the New York Times reported. Neither Abbott nor most of the people he cavorted with wore masks. 

Meanwhile, the topic of masks and whether to wear them has exploded into a culture-war issue in the Lone Star State—and schools, just now starting the fall semester, are the main battleground. Things got particularly testy in Austin, where earlier this week a “masked teacher had her face covering ripped off by a parent” on the first day of school, and another teacher “who was speaking to several parents was yelled at because they said they couldn’t hear her through” her mask, the local TV station KXAN reported.

And the Delta surges continues. “Out of nearly 12,000 people hospitalized with COVID in Texas on Monday, more than a quarter of them are in the state’s ICU beds,” the Texas Tribune reported on Tuesday. “At the end of last week, at least 75 Texas hospitals reported that they had no ICU beds available for patients—and more than 50 additional facilities said they had just one bed available at some point during the previous week.” The strain is particularly severe in Austin, where “paramedics are so understaffed and overworked that some ambulances have to sit unused because there is no one to run them.” 

This post has been updated.

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