The Northside Independent School District board of trustees voted unanimously Tuesday to impose a temporary mask mandate for all students, staff, and visitors.

The mandate goes into effect Aug. 23, the first day of school for San Antonio’s largest school district. The board also voted to authorize Superintendent Brian Woods to “adjust this temporary indoor mask mandate as appropriate given local circumstances.” More than 100,000 students attend NISD.

NISD’s mask mandate comes a day after San Antonio ISD Superintendent Pedro Martinez issued a mask mandate for the district of roughly 46,000 students and after a Bexar County district judge granted a temporary injunction to permit mask mandates in government buildings and public schools, including pre-K through 12th grade schools. Judge Antonia “Toni” Arteaga handed down the ruling Monday after the Texas Supreme Court blocked mask orders in Bexar and Dallas counties on Sunday.

Dallas and Houston school districts have issued similar mask mandates in the past week. Courts have blocked some districts’ mandates, such as Fort Worth ISD’s.

The NISD board voted after spending more than an hour in closed session and listening to 37 speakers, 21 of whom spoke in favor of a mask mandate and 16 who spoke against it. The people against requiring masks to be worn inside school facilities spoke of what they called the harmful effects of wearing masks — claims that have been debunked by scientists. Others insisted on a “freedom of choice” for their children.

The 21 people who stood at the podium in a room of physically distanced chairs asked the board to mandate masks to protect their children who are younger than 12 and not eligible to be vaccinated, to protect children who have compromised immune systems, and to help prevent their children from bringing the virus home to vulnerable family members. Many also said it was the ethical choice for the board to make, regardless of legal consequences. Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order in July barring public entities, such as school districts, from mandating masks.

Jeanette Rodriguez, a fifth grader, asked the board to require everyone to wear masks because she is not old enough to get vaccinated and the delta variant is more dangerous than previous strains of COVID-19. She said her great-grandmother died because of the virus.

“I have not set foot on campus since third grade because of COVID,” she said. “I have been very careful by wearing my mask, but several classmates have gotten sick. … My friends and I don’t want to get sick.”

Another NISD student spoke against wearing masks. Preston Casias told the board he was going to be “really excited” if he did not have to wear a mask this school year. He said wearing the mask made it difficult to recognize friends and make new ones.

Yvette Maldonado holds a sign against mask mandates during a Northside ISD board meeting on Tuesday.
Yvette Maldonado holds a sign against mask mandates during a Northside ISD board meeting on Tuesday. Credit: Nick Wagner / San Antonio Report

The Alamo Heights ISD board also met Tuesday night to discuss possible action related to COVID-19. The board unanimously voted to strongly recommend masks. At least 26 people had signed up to speak.

The North East ISD board meets Thursday to discuss a possible mask mandate for the district, which started school Monday. The meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. in the NEISD Board Room, 8961 Tesoro Drive.

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Brooke Crum

Brooke Crum is the San Antonio Report's education reporter.