EducationTexas Public Universities Opt to Keep Mask Mandates in Place

The Texas A&M System, home to the state’s most populous university, announced that protocols will remain unchanged and may continue into the 2021-2022 school year.
March 10, 2021
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For most students at public Texas universities, Governor Greg Abbott’s “100 percent” reopening announcement fell flat.

The state’s biggest public colleges will keep their mask requirements, despite the state’s loosening of restrictions.

The Texas A&M System, home to the state’s most populous university, announced that protocols will remain unchanged for the multi-school network and may continue even into the 2021-2022 school year.

“With the end of the spring semester only 6-8 weeks away, A&M system members should continue to follow system guidance, ‘Guidance for Spring Semester of 2021 and Related Issues’ issued in October 2020 on testing, face coverings, classes, physical distancing, occupancy limitations, co-curricular activities, among other matters. Based on our assessment of current conditions, this step will help us successfully complete the semester and is consistent with Gov. Greg Abbott’s order that masking and other protocols should be decided by our institutions, not by the state,” the announcement reads.

“At the conclusion of the spring semester, we anticipate System guidance being lifted so that all rules, procedures and practices regarding classes, travel, face coverings, testing, etc., will be determined locally at your institution informed by your conditions and reviewed by the System.”

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The A&M system’s guidance authorizes member schools to require masks, a rule which flagship member Texas A&M at College Station had recently announced it will continue to enforce.

The governor’s order states “no jurisdiction may impose a penalty of any kind for failure to wear a face covering or failure to mandate that customers or employees wear face coverings.” However, it encourages public schools and institutions of higher education to operate according to guidance issued by the Texas Education Agency, which allows school boards to remove their mask orders.

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) oversees K-12 public education in Texas. Though there is a collegiate counterpart to the TEA, the Higher Education Coordinating Board (TECB), it has not issued health guidance for higher education institutions since the summer of 2020. While the TEA exercises authority over secondary schools, Abbott’s order advises — but cannot require — private schools or public colleges to abide by their guidelines. The decision to keep mask mandates on public campuses rests with university leaders alone.

The University of North Texas (UNT), the University of Texas (UT), the University of Houston (UH), and Texas Tech have all announced that mask mandates on campus will remain for the foreseeable future.

The UT System said it would defer to TEA guidance, which advises masks with in-person instruction.

“Let me address those questions directly — we have been safely delivering on our teaching and research missions so far this year, and our protocols have been working,” University President Jay Hartzell wrote.

“As a result, those policies — including requiring masks in our buildings, classrooms and labs — will remain in place. This is in accordance with the most recent guidance from the Texas Education Agency.”

Texas Tech’s athletics department will “soon issue revised policies” regarding outdoor sports events, and the president of UNT told students to expect a “robust in-person campus experience” for the upcoming school year.

As the last school year began, many public universities in Texas built portals into their websites for students to report violations of COVID-19 protocols, with some encouraging the student body to notify the administration of noncompliance.

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Isaiah Mitchell

Isaiah Mitchell

Isaiah Mitchell is a reporter for The Texan, a Texas native, and a huge Allman Brothers fan. He graduated cum laude from Trinity University in 2020 with a degree in English. Isaiah loves playing music and football with his family.