BISD to pursue mask mandate; District may file suit against Abbott

The Brownsville Independent School District could take Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott to task over his executive order prohibiting mask mandates in schools.

On Monday the BISD Board of Trustees posted a special meeting for Thursday to consider authorizing legal counsel Kevin O’Hanlon to file a lawsuit against Abbott, the state of Texas and other related parties “to allow the district to make local decisions regarding the health and safety of its students and employees.”

Trustees also will consider a resolution concerning “the necessity that the school board be able to make local decisions regarding the health and safety of its students.

Abbott earlier issued an executive order prohibiting Texas schools from enacting mask mandates.

BISD is scheduled to start classes Aug. 17 on an in-person only basis in classrooms across the district.

Many parents have expressed concern this will place younger students at risk for contracting COVID-19 as the delta variant spreads across the county.

Although BISD has conducted an aggressive vaccination campaign for its students and staff, only people 12 and older can receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. The vaccine offers a high degree of protection against the virus and a high percentage of BISD staff and students are fully vaccinated.

Trustees are to meet at 3 p.m. Thursday amid concerns about requiring masks and other matters.

Meanwhile, petition on is calling on the BISD to offer virtual learning as an option in the coming school year rather than require students to attend in-person classes as mandated by the Texas Education Agency.

The petition states that parents have to do what’s right for their children regardless of funding issues.

“BISD should offer virtual learning as an option due to this pandemic. Yes funds are very important, but are those $40 a day/child they receive worth our children to end up in the hospital or dead? As seen on our Cameron County website, the numbers keep rising every day. We need to protect our children and virtual learning will help keep them safe and lower the numbers it has been proven,” the petition started by Cinthya Morelos states.

As of mid-afternoon Monday, just under 1,000 people had signed the petition in the 24 hours since Morelos started the effort.

In a letter addressed to the BISD community and dated July 29, Superintendent Rene Gutierrez states that BISD has no other option except to require in-person classroom instruction.

Saying the district looks forward to welcoming students back to its classrooms, Gutierrez states: “The Texas Legislature does not provide funding for school districts to offer virtual instruction for the 2021-2022 school year. Therefore Brownsville ISD’s only option is to provide in-person instruction.”

The petition encourages people who sign petitions to state their reasons for doing so.

Cynthia Picazo wrote that BISD should offer virtual instruction at least to students who can’t get vaccinated. “Also the new guidelines just released from TEA that parents no longer need to be notified of a positive case is just ridiculous. How is that keeping other kids safe?” she wrote.

Currently, vaccines to protect against COVID-19 are only approved for people 12 and older.

Miranda Fragoso wrote that she signed the petition “because I want my child not to be forced into a classroom with 20 other children! It needs to be optional, not mandatory.”

Another parent, Erica De Leon, wrote, “I want my daughters to be safe at home. They did very well virtually!”

Bertha Navarro wrote that she signed the petition because she doesn’t want her daughter, who is too young to get the vaccine, to get sick with COVID.

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