San Antonio Independent School District became the latest Texas school district Monday to require all students and staff to wear face masks, Superintendent Pedro Martinez said in a letter to families.

The district also will require all staff members to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 15, Martinez said in a separate letter to employees.

The new mask mandate comes at the same time a Bexar County district judge restored local authority to require masks in public spaces, including pre-K through 12th grade schools. Judge Antonia “Toni” Arteaga handed down the ruling Monday after the Texas Supreme Court on Sunday blocked mask orders in Bexar and Dallas counties.

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.

Bexar County school districts sent out a slew of messages Sunday night, informing families and staff that masks were no longer required because of the Texas Supreme Court ruling. But they urged families to continue to send their students to school with masks as COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalizations rise because of the highly contagious delta variant.

Superintendents asked families for patience as the legal battle between the state and the city and county continues to play out in the courts. East Central ISD Superintendent Roland Toscano warned families in a message Sunday that “we may, or may not, see changes in mandates in the coming days.”

SAISD spokeswoman Laura Short said the district implemented its own mask mandate separately “to resolve any confusion about expectations in our schools and offices.”

In his letter to families, Martinez also said the mandate would “minimize disruption to your child’s academics, and lessen hardship on families whose children are affected by quarantines for up to 14 days, or worse, illness. Absences due to COVID-19 can lead to a significant loss in days of instruction, and face coverings eliminate the need for quarantine after close contact exposure.”

SAISD’s positivity rate is about 2%, but the county’s rate has exceeded 20%, Martinez wrote in the letter.

“The time is now to rise to the occasion again as leaders,” he said.

About 90% of SAISD staff has been vaccinated against COVID-19, but the district will require all staff to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 15, according to Martinez’ letter. He wrote that the federal Food and Drug Administration likely will grant the vaccines full approval, not just emergency approval, in the “next few weeks” and that he hopes this final step “brings you reassurance.”

Additionally, Martinez noted in the letter that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has said employers can mandate COVID-19 vaccinations, with some exceptions. SAISD’s Human Resources department will have more information in the coming days for employees who believe they qualify for an exemption.

SAISD will continue to offer free weekly COVID-19 testing and hold vaccination clinics for students and staff members. The district also will begin posting weekly COVID-19 case numbers on its website by Friday.

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Brooke Crum

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