By a unanimous vote Thursday afternoon, the Brownsville Independent School District Board of Trustees authorized a lawsuit against Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to allow the district to implement a mask mandate in the best interests of its students, staff and employees.
The board also authorized a resolution stating the necessity that the school board be able to make decisions locally regarding the health and safety of those same students, staff and employees.
Abbott earlier issued an executive order prohibiting school boards and other governments from instituting mask mandates. School boards across the state in recent days have been issuing mandates in defiance of the governor.
BISD attorney Kevin O’Hanlon said from Austin that the lawsuit would be filed in Travis County along with other school districts his firm represents. “This is gathering steam,” he said.
The vote followed a presentation by risk management director Dustin Garza, who runs BISD’s health plan, and health services director Alonso Guerrero that COVID-19 infections in BISD, Brownsville and Cameron County have run rampant in recent weeks as the delta variant spreads across the Rio Grande Valley.
“We’re getting near the point we were at when the pandemic reached its peak in December,” hospitals are almost at capacity, and the highest number of infections is among individuals under 20 years old, Garza said. “This data doesn’t lie.”
When Superintendent Rene Gutierrez asked about a recent survey of BISD parents, Garza said just under 97 percent of parents agreed that a mask mandate is the safest way to slow the spread of COVID-19 because children under 12 are still ineligible to receive the vaccine against the virus.
Gutierrez also urged everyone who is eligible for the vaccine, those 12 and older, to take the shot at vaccine clinics that were held Thursday afternoon at all BISD high schools as part of open house events, and that are scheduled from 3-7 p.m. Monday at all BISD middle schools during meet-the-teacher events there.
“The more we put (the vaccine) in their arms, the safer we all will be,” he said.
Gutierrez recommended that the board approve the resolution “and that we make masks a mandate.”
Afterward, Board President Eddie Garcia said “this is a very strong message we are sending, how important our employees are, and more important, how important our students are.”