KBS Reference Desk: Lifting of Mask Mandate and Implications for UIL Activities

Q:        With the issuance of Governor Abbott’s Executive Order GA-34 lifting the statewide face mask mandate, effective March 10, 2021, our district is quickly trying to revamp our COVID-19 mitigation strategies. We are closely reviewing both CDC and updated TEA guidance, but in addition to that, do you know if the UIL has published any updated direction for UIL activities?

 A:        Yes. On March 4, 2021, the UIL issued its updated guidance and requirements regarding face coverings and social distancing in response to the Governor’s Order. Unless otherwise modified or eliminated by formal action of the board of trustees of the district where the event is being held, students, teachers, and staff members are still required to wear face masks when entering areas where UIL activities are being conducted and when not actively practicing or participating in a UIL contest, subject to certain conditions and exceptions. This UIL requirement goes into effect on March 10, 2021, simultaneous with Governor Abbott’s Executive Order GA-34.

 Governor Abbott’s March 2, 2021, Executive Order GA-34 (“EO-34”), effective March 10, 2021, removes state-mandated COVID-19 operating limits for Texas businesses and establishments, as well as state-mandated COVID-19 face covering requirements, while still reserving the right of businesses and other establishments to require employees and patrons to adhere to hygiene measures including wearing of a face covering. With regard to public school districts, specifically, EO-34 defers to the Texas Education Agency. In response to the Governor’s Order, TEA updated its Public Health Planning Guidance document on March 4, 2021, providing for the continuation of existing health and hygiene practices, including the wearing of masks, with the exception that “[t]he governing board of a school system may modify or eliminate by formal action the mask-related requirements.”

On March 4, 2021, the UIL issued its updated guidance, also effective March 10, 2021. This guidance states that face coverings, while conducting UIL activities, are required, subject to the original exceptions (e.g. students while actively participating, anyone consuming food or beverages, a person suffering from a medical condition, etc.) unless the board of trustees of the district where the event is being held exercises its discretion to modify or eliminate this UIL face covering requirement, in accordance with EO-34 and TEA-established guidelines.

It is important to note that although the Governor’s latest Executive Order may lift COVID-19 state-mandated restrictions and limitations, the original March 13, 2020 COVID-19 public health disaster declaration is still in effect for the State of Texas, as Governor Abbott has extended this declaration for an additional 30-day period, beginning March 6, 2021. FEMA reimbursement eligibility therefore continues, as does the Governor’s ability to impose regulatory suspensions of any statute related to state business “that may considerably impede, hinder, or delay necessary action in coping with or mitigating the COVID-19 public health disaster.”  The Governor, therefore,  renewed the TOMA suspension staying the requirement for in-person attendance by board members, likewise effective March 6, 2021, for an additional 30-day period. Other requirements of the TOMA remain in place and in full effect, however. A listing of those specific, suspended provisions may be found here.

The UIL’s updated 2020-2021 COVID-19 Risk Mitigation Guidelines may be found here. Updated 2020-2021 Public Health Planning Guidance from the Texas Education Agency may be found here.

For specific questions or additional information regarding the UIL’s updated face-covering requirement or implications of the State of Texas COVID-19 public health disaster declaration for your district, please consult with your local school law attorney.

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