When Texas Gov. Greg Abbott declared a ban on mask mandates across the state, some parents and educators were concerned for the safety of school-aged children, many of whom could not yet be vaccinated against COVID-19. Now, however, one school district in Texas is finding a unique way to make sure its students are masked up: by making masks a mandatory part of the dress code.
A statement from the Paris ISD Board of Trustees reads: “The Board of Trustees is concerned about the health and safety of its students and employees. The Board believes the dress code can be used to mitigate communicable health issues, and therefore has amended the PISD dress code to protect our students and employees.”
The board claims that the governor does not have the authority to usurp his power over the school’s dress code, adding, “Nothing in the Governor’s Executive Order 38 states he has suspended Chapter 11 of the Texas Education Code, and therefore the Board has elected to amend its dress code consistent with its statutory authority.”
Related video: Several large Texas districts defying Abbott's mask ban
Many praised the decision on Facebook. One follower of the Paris ISD page wrote, “Thank you for having the common sense to do the right thing and protect the children to which you are entrusted. Y’all rock!” Another added, “Thank you Paris ISD for providing a temporary solution within your authority. Thank you for making students and staff safety priority one. Praying other districts will follow your lead.”
A third shared, “Thank you for protecting your students & employees and ultimately our community.”
Others in the comments section, however, pushed back against the loophole. One falsely claimed that children would get “respiratory issues” from masks while another warned that it was just one step closer to “push the vaccination on the kids.”
To the negative commenters, one person wrote, “Some of these comments are downright terrifying. I'm surrounded by the proudest group of misinformed terrorists that claim they know what's best for my kids. I've lost people to this and you guys still think it's about politics!”
The connection between a mask mandate and a school’s dress code recently became a topic of conversation when a Tennessee mother — upon learning that students in the Hamilton County district could “opt out” of the school’s mask mandate if their parents filled out an exemption form — sent an email to the district declaring that she would be opting her daughter out of what she called a “misogynistic” dress code. The post later went viral on Twitter.
“As someone who holds a strong commitment to my feminist ideals and my desire to raise my daughter to be a strong and empowered woman able to make choices for herself, I find that the school's dress code policy does not align with my belief system,” the unidentified mother wrote. “I therefore intend to opt out of this policy and send my daughter to school in spaghetti straps, leggings, cut offs and anything else she feels comfortable wearing to school.”
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, previously told Yahoo Life that mask mandates should be in a different category from dress codes, because it’s about a “public health crisis” rather than the “culture of the school.”
"When we talk about dress codes or other codes of conduct in schools, we are acknowledging that we are a part of a community in schools and we accept these protocols as part of what makes these communities safe and healthy," Weingarten explained. "Masks should have a higher priority — not a lower priority — than dress codes."
However, for the Paris ISD, twisting the dress code may be a necessary loophole in order to support this public health measure.