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'We're in an urgent crisis' | Dallas ISD to 'temporarily' require masks at schools and facilities, officials announce

Officials said the decision came as hospitalizations prompted Dallas County to raise its COVID-19 threat level to red.

DALLAS — The Dallas Independent School District will require face masks for students and staff, defying Gov. Greg Abbott's order which bans mask mandates. 

As cases continue to rise in Dallas County and the health department moved the risk level to red, Superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa said this was important to keep the district's students, staff, and families safe.

Hinojosa said that he's willing to be fined because there are consequences for whatever action he takes.

"I'd rather take that consequence than have the health of students and staff and families on my mind," Hinojosa said. "If I need to be held accountable, if I need to pay a fine, I'll do what I need to do."

Students, staff, and visitors will be required to wear masks at district schools and facilities starting Tuesday. 

"That executive order is very loose according to our attorneys," Hinojosa said. "All this is going to play itself out, and we're not going to be the only ones that are taking this action."

Back in May, Abbott issued an executive order that prohibited government entities, including schools, from implementing mask mandates. Under the order, face masks could no longer be required for students, teachers, parents, or other staff members on campus after June 4.

RELATED: New order strips local officials' ability to set capacity limits amid high hospitalizations, stresses 'personal responsibility'

Hinojosa said he hopes to relax the requirement by the end of August, but that "hope is not a strategy."

Hinojosa didn't speak with the governor's office about the district's mask requirement.

"Actually, I have a good relationship with the governor in the past," Hinojosa said. "I've served on a couple of committees with him. It's not personal. This is a different point of view. He's got the whole state to worry about. I've got all of Dallas ISD to worry about."

Children under 12 are still unable to get vaccinated against COVID-19, another factor playing into the return to school.

"We're going to do everything we can to keep you [DISD community] safe, just like we did last year," Hinojosa said. "None of us like wearing this mask, I don't like it and I'm vaccinated but we have got to do what we have got to do as an extra layer of protection."

Students and staff who do not follow the mask requirement will be disciplined, Hinojosa added, though staff members are working out how that will be determined.

"We're going to ask people to comply first," he explained. "If you don't comply, you're going to suffer the consequences."

Dallas ISD says the governor's order "does not limit the district’s rights as an employer and educational institution to establish reasonable and necessary safety rules for its staff and students."

Watch the entire news conference below:

The Texas Education Agency also released new COVID-19 guidance last week that said schools must follow Abbott's order regarding masks. According to its guidance, schools also don't need to inform families of a positive COVID-19 case in the school, nor conduct contact tracing. 

In addition, if a school does contract trace, students who are considered "close contacts" of an infected student can still attend school if parents choose to send them to class, under the TEA's guidance.

For a full look at the guidance, click here.

Houston ISD announced last week that it was considering requiring masks despite Abbott's ban. The district's Board of Education is set to vote on that this week.

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