WEEKEND READ: Back-to-school battle over masks hits boiling point as Texas districts defy Gov. Abbott

Coronavirus

“Safe Schools for All” group of over 100 Austin ISD parents, students, and teachers meet August 9 to demand districts do more to protect communities, despite Gov. Greg Abbott’s mask ban (KXAN/Jacqulyn Powell)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — It’s the COVID-19 cataclysm: as a new school year begins across Texas, many parents and school districts are ready to go head-to-head with Gov. Greg Abbott’s ban on mask mandates in public schools.

On Wednesday, the City of Austin and Travis County announced it will require face masks for residents in city and county buildings and public schools. Other big Texas districts that will require masks in the new school year — at least for now — include Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio and Houston ISDs.

As of Friday’s count, there are 2,865 active COVID-19 cases in Austin-Travis County. There are currently 596 people hospitalized, 198 patients in the ICU and 128 people on ventilators. The area remains in Stage 5 of its COVID-19 risk-based guidelines.

Back-to-school battle

Earlier this week, a group of more than 100 Austin ISD parents, students and teachers formed the advocacy group “Safe Schools for All” — to demand the district do more to stop COVID-19 spread in the new school year.

Group members railed against what they call Abbott’s “dangerous” mask ban in public schools and “irresponsible” guidance by the Texas Education Agency, which isn’t currently allowing mass remote learning. The new school year comes during an unfortunate surge in COVID-19 cases in the Austin-Travis County area, state and nationwide.

Many Central Texas parents say they’re concerned — as children younger than 12 still aren’t eligible for vaccinations, as the delta variant rips through communities.

Abbott’s order faced yet another dismissal, when a Travis County district judge granted a temporary restraining order against Abbott’s order, allowing local mask mandates to be enforced.

On Friday, the U.S. Department of Education sent a letter to Abbott and TEA Commissioner Mike Morath, saying the department stands behind Texas districts defying the ban.

And as schools prepare to open back up, some big-ticket entertainment events are closing because of the case surge.

Cancelations

One of the first big-ticket entertainment events to announce its cancelation were a set of Blues on the Green shows, which were scheduled to be held this week at Zilker Park. Austin City Limits Radio said the decision was based on the current “public health emergency.”

The shows are set to be rescheduled for a future date.

The Texas Tribune Festival, which features politics and news events, chose this week to move all virtual.

Meanwhile, only days before it was set to begin, Austin Pride announced it would cancel its festival weekend for the second year in a row.

On Wednesday, Austin Pride said in a statement“The choice was made for us, and for the safety of our city and community, to put a pause on in-person gatherings. We were more excited than you know to celebrate with you all. The reality of being in the thick of this pandemic again is truly heartbreaking.”

How will future events go?

So far, the Austin City Limits Music Festival is still set to be held in October.

The sold-out 2021 Austin City Limits Music Festival is set to be held October 1-10 in Austin’s Zilker Park. While that’s still two months away, a group called Cancel ACL Fest is now calling for the world-famous “ACL” to axe its in-person events.

A Change.org petition currently has 1,800 signatures as of Saturday afternoon. The petition homepage reads, in part: “Due to Governor Abbott’s laws against vaccine passports and mask mandates, it is no longer safe to have this event. ACL has no plans to even discuss canceling. For the public safety of all that live in Austin, it’s best to cancel the festival.”

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