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Texas House Democrats ask Gov. Abbott to allow schools to offer virtual learning, mandate masks

Austin ISD will strongly encourage masking indoors when the school year starts on Aug. 17. (Bob Daemmrich)

With new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations spiking upwards in Austin and across the state, 31 Texas House Democrats are asking Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Education Agency to allow public school districts to offer virtual learning options and mandate masking during the upcoming school year.

"Only weeks ago it may have seemed that we Texans were putting the COVID pandemic behind us," State Rep. Vikki Goodwin, D-Austin, wrote in a letter to Abbott and Mike Morath, education commissioner, on Friday. "But the Delta variant has shown us that this, sadly, not the case."

As a result of the more contagious Delta variant, COVID cases and hospitalizations are rising rapidly—and overwhelmingly affecting unvaccinated individuals. The number of weekly new cases statewide has increased over fivefold in the last month, according to the Department of State Health Services.

This is of particular concern to school officials and families with school-age children, as most school districts are set to resume in-person learning in less than a month and children under 12 remain ineligible for any COVID vaccine.

"The academic year will be starting soon, and we have heard from school officials and parents in our districts that the path we are on is not acceptable to them," Goodwin wrote. "To meet this challenge, schools must be given options that they currently do not have."

Abbott told a Houston TV news station on Tuesday that he would not impose another mask mandate, saying it would be "inappropriate to require people who already have immunity to wear a mask."

Goodwin and her co-signers—including State Reps. Eddie Rodriguez, Donna Howard, Celia Israel, Gina Hinojosa and Sheryl Cole of Austin—asked Abbott and Morath to allow schools to implement virtual learning options for students who are at-risk or unvaccinated. State lawmakers failed to pass legislation during the regular session that would have funded such options.

"Families are concerned about matters of life and death: if they feel that pulling their child out of school is the only way to survive, then they will do that," she wrote.

Goodwin also asked state leaders to allow school districts to mandate masking on campus. Abbott issued an executive order in May that prohibits public schools from issuing such mandates.

Austin ISD will "strongly encourage everyone, whether vaccinated or not, to wear a mask when indoors and around others who are not in their immediate household," according to its COVID protocols for the upcoming school year. Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde also told the Austin American-Statesman editorial board this week that the district is considering offering limited virtual learning.


Tito's releases (not so?) ugly sweater line for the holidays, profits to charity

Tito's Handmade Vodka

Show your love for Tito's and for the community this year with a wide selection of not that ugly, uglyish, ugly, uglier, and ugliest holiday sweaters.

There's lots choose from, and plenty of accessories like scarves and socks, plus gear for your dog, too.

All of the items can be purchased online or at the Love, Tito’s Retail Store in Austin, TX. 100% of all net proceeds from online or in-store purchases go to one of the nonprofits we’ve teamed up with.

Click here to see the entire collection in the Tito's store.

Mac and Cheese Fest and Free Art Exhibit
Waterloo Greenway, Good Vibrations Installation

🗓 All weekend

🎨 Creek Show Art Exhibit

Check out this highly anticipated art exhibition with illuminated art along Waller Creek. Tickets are free and the event includes food vendors, dazzling lights, live music, and hands-on activities

All weekend 6 p.m - 10 p.m | 📍Waterloo Park

✨ Mozart's Light Show

This iconic holiday tradition lights up for the first time this holiday season starting this weekend! Reserve your spot for an enchanting light and sound performance, delicious hot cocoa, sweet treats, and some overall fun with your friends or family. The show runs till January 6th.

6 p.m and 9 p.m | 📍Mozart's Coffee Roasters - 3825 Lake Austin Blvd, Austin, TX 78703

🗓 Saturday

🥊 Kickboxing in the Park

This fitness event is free and open to the public. Get your morning started right with a "Fitness in the park" class for kickboxing! The class will be led by certified instructors and is a great way to get a cardio workout in while also honing your self-defense skills.

10 a.m - 11 a.m | 📍 Metz Park

🛍 The Front Market

Support local LBGTQ+ and female artists at this outdoor market with over 150 vendors. Get your holiday shopping out of the way at this event, with vendors for food trucks, handmade goods, raffles, hands on workshops and activities, and more.

11 a.m - 5 p.m | 📍Ani's Day and Night - 7107 E Riverside Drive, Austin, TX 78741

🗓 Sunday

🧀 Mac and Cheese Fest

Did someone say cheese?! If you're like me and always willing to get your hands on a bowl of mac and cheese, then this event is for you. Check out the Mac and Cheese festival happening this weekend to decide which vendor has. the best mac and cheese for yourself, and enjoy the bar with creative cocktails while you're at it. Tickets start at $45.

11 a.m - 3 p.m | 📍Lantana Place - 7415 Southwest Parkway