Northside Independent School District has announced it will not mandate masks on school campuses.
Northside Independent School District has announced it will not mandate masks on school campuses. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Northside Independent School District will not enforce the mask mandate for Bexar County public schools issued on Tuesday, a district spokesman said Wednesday.

NISD will continue to “strongly encourage the use of face masks” by all who enter district facilities or attend events, but San Antonio’s largest school district will not require them, spokesman Barry Perez said.

“Northside ISD is aware of the temporary restraining order pertaining to face-mask mandates and continues to closely monitor the changing guidelines and directives,” he said. “Any change to this stance will be announced prior to the first day of school, Aug. 23.”

Dr. Junda Woo, medical director for the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District, on Tuesday filed a health directive requiring all students, staff, and visitors ages 2 and older to wear masks while inside all pre-K through 12th grade public schools. The directive came hours after a Bexar County district judge granted a temporary restraining order, allowing the city and the county to mandate masks in public buildings.

City Attorney Andy Segovia said in a statement that the goal of the mask mandate is not to punish school districts but provide them with “tools to protect students and staff.” Children under age 12 are not yet eligible to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

“Unfortunately, not complying with this mask mandate only increases the possibility that those in their care could be infected with the virus when it’s clear we know it can be avoided,” Segovia said in the statement.

About 103,000 students attend NISD, and more than 13,640 people work for the district full-time, according to the Texas Education Agency.

Perez said district leaders do not want to confuse the NISD community by changing its mask requirements before school starts on Aug. 23. Additionally, a hearing to extend the temporary restraining order will be held Monday morning, and a judge could overturn the order.

“Unlike some other districts, we do have the luxury of a little more time,” he said. “We’re going to wait and see the outcome of next Monday’s hearing and any subsequent opposition or decisions rendered beyond that. We will put out a more permanent guideline by the start of our school year.”

While school hasn’t started, the district is holding back-to-school events, and some students are attending extracurricular activities on campus, Perez said. Some of those students are younger than 12 years old, the population the health directive intended to protect as well as people with compromised immune systems who have school-age children at home. A rising number of pediatric COVID-19 cases also influenced the issuance of the mask order, county officials said Tuesday.

Meanwhile, NISD is caught in the middle. Perez said the district has heard from families who have said they will not enroll their children in the district unless it requires masks and from families who have said they will withdraw their students if NISD mandates masks.

“We know that whatever decision we make, it is not going to be met with 100% approval,” he said.

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Brooke Crum

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