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La Joya ISD will sue Gov. Abbott over executive order that banned mask mandates

The La Joya Independent School District will challenge Texas Gov. Greg Abbott — and his executive order that prohibited school districts from requiring people to wear face masks — in court.

During an emergency meeting on Wednesday night, trustees authorized the La Joya ISD legal team to sue Abbott over the executive order.

La Joya ISD, though, isn’t waiting for a judge to make a decision. With support from the school board, Superintendent Gisela Saenz announced Wednesday that students, teachers and staff will be required to wear face masks on campus.

“And, hopefully, many others can follow,” said school board President Oscar “Coach” Salinas, adding that he welcomed other school districts to join La Joya. “It doesn’t matter if La Joya’s first or Brownsville’s first or Laredo’s first. As long as we all come together and do what’s right.”

Trustees made the decision after meeting in executive session, where they discussed the COVID-19 pandemic and the contagious Delta variant, which is sweeping across the country.

About 380 people with COVID-19 were hospitalized in Hidalgo County on Wednesday, more than seven times the number hospitalized in mid-July.

The number of COVID-19 patients in local intensive care units also skyrocketed from about 20 in mid-July to nearly 100 on Wednesday.

Trustees remain concerned about students younger than 12 years old, who can’t be vaccinated.

“I understand that he wants things to go back to normal, as many of us want to go back to normal,” said Trustee Alex Cantu. “But what concerns me is the children who don’t have the option to get vaccinated. And that’s the 11-and-under.”

Cantu said that, as a parent of an 8-year-old boy, he’s deeply concerned.

“We can’t wait for something bad to happen, especially a kid’s life, to react to it,” Cantu said.

To reduce the risk posed by the virus, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people wear masks indoors.

“CDC recommends universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to schools, regardless of vaccination status,” according to a bulletin posted by the CDC on July 27.

Abbott, however, signed an executive order in May that prohibited school districts from requiring anyone to wear a mask.

“No governmental entity, including a county, city, school district, and public health authority, and no governmental official may require any person to wear a face covering or to mandate that another person wear a face covering,” according to the executive order, which included exceptions for hospitals, jails and prisons.

Local governments across Texas pushed back against the executive order as COVID-19 cases spiked.

With the 2021-2022 school year scheduled to start on Monday, trustees felt they needed to make a decision quickly.

Trustee Espie Ochoa said that she remained hopeful Abbott would change his mind.

“And he will retract and say: ‘I made a mistake,’” Ochoa said. “But, at this point, we need to do everything that we can to protect our community.”

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