Amid Mask Battle, New Effort Emerges to Bail Out Defiant School Districts

The battle over masks in school districts is intensifying.
The battle over masks in school districts is intensifying. Photo by Taylor Wilcox on Unsplash
As a father of two school-aged children, Mike Siegel has a lot at stake. The progressive leader wants his kids to live long and healthy lives, but he fears Gov. Greg Abbott’s anti-mask policies could be putting them in jeopardy.

On Sunday, the Texas Supreme Court sided with the governor and temporarily blocked mask mandates in Dallas and Bexar counties. Under Abbott’s executive order, entities that require masks could face fines of up to $1,000.

In response, Siegel’s progressive political action committee Ground Game Texas began raising funds to help districts cover those costs.

“We’re going to be there to protect them and to make sure their pocketbooks don’t take a hit just because they do the right thing for kids,” said Siegel, Ground Game Texas’ political director.

In recent days, the state government’s push to quash local COVID-19 mandates has been met with fierce opposition. Last week, Dallas ISD and County Judge Clay Jenkins both issued masking requirements in spite of Abbott’s executive order.

Now, the anti-Abbott mask resistance is going grassroots.

On Sunday, Ground Game Texas announced the Bail Fund for Texas Schools, which seeks to raise at least $100,000 to protect 100 or more districts from state-issued fines. By the following evening, they’d generated nearly $6,000.

Siegel said district officials need to prioritize the safety of children and school staff over their fear of fines. The bail fund could especially help smaller districts that don’t enjoy big budgets.

“We want them to know that they don’t have to think about the money when they make choices for school safety,” he said.

“Even though some of us are safe right now, a lot of us aren’t." – Mike Siegel

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Ground Game Texas has partnered with Safe Schools For All, a statewide advocacy group pushing for COVID-19 safety measures in Texas districts. Former Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro’s organization, People First Future, has also given the bail fund a boost.
Masks are still the “easiest precaution against the spread of the virus,” said Lana Hansen, co-founder of Safe Schools For All.

“Why wouldn’t we require something so simple and scientifically sound to protect our children?” she said in a news release. “As a parent of children who are not old enough to get vaccinated, I am appalled that Governor Abbott and the Texas Supreme Court are playing Russian roulette with our children’s lives.”

After the state’s Republican justices issued their ruling, Jenkins doubled down on the county’s mask order but modified it to remove fines for noncompliant businesses. Dallas ISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa also announced the district would keep its mandate in place.

Siegel said he believes the state's Supreme Court will remain in lockstep with the governor, who’s putting his political ambitions above Texans’ best interests. Yet as coronavirus cases surge throughout schools, parents will continue to decry decisions that put kids’ health at risk.

Masks are also required in Austin, where Siegel’s children attend school. Still, he’s fighting for other Texans whose school boards aren’t “taking action to protect kids and families.”

“This is a long-term fight we’re in,” he said. “Even though some of us are safe right now, a lot of us aren’t. And we want to keep fighting so that everyone has the protections they need during the pandemic.”

As of Monday, Dallas ISD has counted 230 coronavirus cases for the 2021–2022 school year.
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Simone Carter, a staff news reporter at the Dallas Observer, graduated from the University of North Texas' Mayborn School of Journalism. Her favorite color is red, but she digs Miles Davis' Kind of Blue.
Contact: Simone Carter