Northside Independent School District will return to “strongly encouraging” instead of requiring the wearing of masks Monday, three weeks after reinstating the districtwide mandate.

In a letter to families and staff, NISD said it based the lifting of the mandate on improving metrics in San Antonio, Bexar County and in schools.

“Metrics that were specifically monitored include the percentage of positive tests, cases per 100,000 residents, positive cases reported directly to our schools, number of individuals in self-isolation or quarantine, and student and staff attendance rates,” the letter states. “All of these metrics have steadily improved over the two weeks.”

The district restored the mask mandate Jan. 20 while trying to combat the supercontagious omicron variant of the coronavirus and the high rates of absenteeism that accompanied it. Almost 20% of students and 15% of staff missed school the first two weeks of January.

Texas school districts have been locked in a legal battle with Gov. Greg Abbott for months after he issued an executive order in July prohibiting school districts and other governmental entities from mandating masks. Dozens of school districts, including NISD, have sued the governor, claiming he lacks the authority to prevent districts from adopting mask mandates.

Some local districts — including San Antonio, South San Antonio and Edgewood ISDs — have implemented mask mandates while the lawsuits wind their way through the Texas court system.

San Antonio appears to have passed the omicron peak, local physicians said last week. On Thursday, Bexar County recorded 903 new COVID-19 cases and a seven-day rolling average of 1,345 cases, according to San Antonio’s Metropolitan Health District.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation that students, faculty and staff wear masks in schools remains in place for now.

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Brooke Crum

Brooke Crum covered education for the San Antonio Report.