School & District Management

Meet the School Leaders Defying Bans on Mask Mandates

Why They’re Taking a Stand
By Lesli A. Maxwell — August 13, 2021 1 min read
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A handful of superintendents and school boards in Florida, Texas, and a few other states are standing up to governors’ orders or state laws that bar them from requiring universal masking in schools.

In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis and Education Commissioner Ron Corcoran had threatened to withhold the salaries of school leaders who defy the state’s prohibition on mask mandates. In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order in May to stop local authorities—including schools—from enforcing mask-wearing requirements.

This is happening as the two states experience escalating cases of COVID-19 and hospitalizations, driven in large measure by the more-contagious Delta variant, just as their schools are reopening for full-time, in-person learning.

On Friday, the U.S. Department of Education sent letters to leaders in both states chastising the bans on mask mandates and expressing support for defiant school leaders. “The Department stands with these dedicated educators who are working to safely reopen schools and maintain safe in-person instruction,” the U.S. Secretary of Education wrote.

Education Week spoke to one Texas superintendent defying the state’s ban, Michael Hinojosa of Dallas schools.

“I’m not necessarily a militant,” he said. Still, he said, “How can I follow a law that I believe will endanger my students, my staff, and my community? To me, that would be intellectually dishonest.”

Below are more perspectives of school leaders defying the mask restrictions in their states.

Leon County, Fla., Superintendent Rocky Hanna

I did a lot of soul searching, a lot of thinking. If, heaven forbid, we lost a child to this virus, I can’t just simply blame the governor of the state of Florida. I can’t.

Alachua County, Fla., Superintendent Carlee Simon

The governor recently threatened to withhold funds from school districts that implement certain safety measures, particularly masking. But we don’t have the luxury of ignoring the current crisis to score political points.

Broward County, Fla., school board chairwoman Rosalind Osgood

Rosalind Osgood, Broward County Public Schools board member, hands out lunch to the community while schools are closed for the week amid the virus outbreak at Dillard High School on March 16, 2020, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

We have concluded that people's lives are invaluable. It is too big a chance to take when you do the cost-benefit analysis. It's not ever OK to risk your child's life.

Dallas Superintendent Michael Hinojosa

Dallas Independent School District Superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa announces that masks will be required at all Dallas ISD schools at DISD headquarters in Dallas, Monday, August 9, 2021.

Parents will forgive us if we commit educational malpractice. They’ll never forgive us if something bad happens to their kids’ safety and health. ... This is something that is locally important to us and our community and we have to be held accountable for our decisions. And so be it.

Austin Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde

Superintendent of the Austin Independent School District Stephanie S. Elizalde, at the Doss Elementary School entrance in Austin on Oct. 5, 2020.

I am responsible for the safety, health and welfare of each and every one of our students and our staff. If I err, I must err on the side of ensuring that we’ve been overly cautious, not that we have fallen short.

Fort Worth Superintendent Kent Scribner

Fort Worth Superintendent Kent Scribner, left, and president Cinto Ramos, Jr. lead an open meeting about transgender policy in schools at the Fort Worth ISD Board of Education complex in Fort Worth, Texas on May 10, 2016.

The safety of students and staff has and always will be our priority.

Phoenix Union High School Superintendent Chad Gestson

This decision — all decisions that we made — but this particular one is not about defiance. It's ultimately about science.

Santa Fe South Schools, Okla., Superintendent Chris Brewster

If this decision keeps a single member of our community from suffering serious health issues or death, it is worth it a thousand times over.

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