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Austin charter school makes masks optional to ensure State funding

The KIPP Public Schools administrator said they choose to follow the governor's ban on mask orders because they have too much to lose.

AUSTIN, Texas — One Austin charter school agrees with mask mandates but is choosing to follow Gov. Greg Abbott's ban on them.

The hustle and bustle of the first day of classes at the Kipp Austin College Prep campus off Cameron Road in North Austin on Monday included a nice surprise. 

Hector Leiva, the director of strategic communications, said all middle schoolers followed their recommendation to mask up.

"Every single student understands the importance of wearing a mask, and they showed up and wore a mask, every single one of our students," said Leiva.

It was part of KIPP's #maskupforKIPPsters campaign. The district asked for voluntary mask compliance despite Travis County and Austin's mask mandates issued last week.

In fact, Leiva said the public charter school is following Abbott's ban on such orders. He said public charter schools can lose funding like traditional public schools and then some.

"The difference is that a public charter school ultimately can lose their charter if we do not follow the laws, or if we do not meet accountability, and so that's an added level of accountability that traditional public schools just do not have," Leiva said.

He added that public charter schools have fewer resources than traditional public schools.

"We actually receive about $1,400 per student less than a traditional public school, and so we just don't have the resources to sue the governor or to take any legal action, even if we wanted to," Leiva said.

So, for now, KIPP is monitoring the legal battle from the classroom.

Sehba Ali, KIPP Texas Public Schools' CEO, said, “With so many of our students ineligible to get the vaccine, it is simply reckless to take away our local ability to implement protocols that make sense for our schools. Masks work. They are one of the simplest, most effective tools at our disposal to stop the spread of this disease among our vulnerable student population, especially our children under 12.” 

Ali went on to state, “In a letter to Gov. Abbott, I urged him to reconsider his position on banning mask mandates and return local health and safety decision-making back where it belongs: in the hands of public school leaders who know their communities best,” she said.  

In a release, KIPP Texas stated it will continue to provide masks and sanitizer at all schools and buildings and will continue contact tracing. KIPP Texas Public Schools' health and safety protocols are based on guidance from local, state and national health experts and the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

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