KBS Reference Desk: Mask Exception

Q:         Our county is currently under a mandatory mask order. We have several students within our District with asthma. If a parent requests exception from the mask mandate due to their student’s asthma, is the student permitted to attend class without a mask?

A:         Yes, if the student qualifies as having a medical condition or disability documented by a physician or medical practitioner.    

On July 2, 2020, Governor Greg Abbott issued Executive Order No. GA-29 relating to the use of face coverings during the COVID-19 disaster. The Executive Order mandates every person in Texas, living in counties with more than 20 COVID-19 cases, to wear a face covering over the nose and mouth when, among other things, inside a building or space open to the public. Governor Abbott’s Executive Order provides for several exceptions to wearing a face mask, including but not limited to, children who are younger than 10 years old and those with a medical condition or disability that prevents wearing a face covering.

When a request for mask exemption is made, it is recommended that the District first engage the parent in a discussion to find mask options that work for both the school and student (e.g. full-face shields) to protect against COVID-19, while also acknowledging the special needs of its student population. Masks in Texas schools include non-medical and medical grade disposable face masks and cloth face coverings (over the nose and mouth). Full-face shields may be used in place of a mask to protect eyes, nose, and mouth when a mask is not feasible or the education context may benefit from the ability to see an individual’s full face. There are “face covering” options, therefore, that may present less of an irritant to the asthma acceptable for the parent. Other protective measures the District can offer, and should be  discussed as alternatives to complete exemption, include rearranging classroom seating, implementing mask breaks, practice of social distancing, and having an action plan on file with the school nurse for each student with asthma including ensuring prescribed medications are well stocked in the event of an asthma attack. 

If the parent persists in their request for a complete exemption, it is recommended that the District secure documentation from the student’s physician addressing the specific impairment, prognosis, functional or other implications related to the student’s medical condition that prevent the student from being able to wear a face mask, and whether the student can wear a face covering, if any. The alternative protective measures identified above should be addressed by the physician as well if a complete exemption is recommended.

The CDC has provided Guidance for K-12 School Administrators on the Use of Masks in Schools, which is available at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/cloth-face-cover.html. Please contact your local school attorney if you seek additional information or have specific questions regarding mask exception requests during the COVID-19 pandemic, as there are a myriad of issues that could develop including application of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

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