Last week, we reopened all of our campuses for learning, teaching, and student support. I want to thank you for your perseverance as we navigate our ongoing return.
Things are going well. We continue to gather in low numbers while practicing social distancing and wearing face masks to help slow the spread of COVID-19. The number of ACC COVID cases reported remains low, and, to date, there have been no cases transmitted on campus because of your diligence. We will remain cautious to help keep it that way.
I am following reports from local school districts. There is an important distinction regarding COVID cases reported at schools and colleges that have a mask mandate and those without. At ACC, we continue to require face masks inside our buildings.
As you know, our Board of Trustees took a bold step in August to issue a board directive that mandates face masks at the college effective August 20, 2021. At that time, the board also authorized ACC to seek legal clarity related to the mask mandate and the board’s authority to adopt safety measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As an update, here’s what I want you to know:
- This mandate remains in effect. Everyone age 2 and older must wear a face covering that covers the nose and mouth at all times while in ACC buildings. Masks may be removed only when you are alone in a private space like an individual office. They are required in all common areas and shared spaces.
- We believe that under Texas law a community college board has exclusive and independent legal authority to adopt policies, rules, and regulations to protect the health and safety of its students, faculty, and staff; and that the Governor’s emergency powers do not grant him the authority to prohibit the board of trustees from adopting recommended safety measures for our students, faculty, and staff.
- The trial court agreed with our legal position and granted a temporary injunction in our favor. The Attorney General has appealed that ruling to the Third Court of Appeals.
- As the case progresses in the courts, we continue to monitor local impacts of COVID-19. We work regularly with regional health authorities to follow updates. While our region remains in Stage 5, data show new cases and hospitalizations in Central Texas are coming down.
The college is now working to determine at what point a mask mandate is no longer needed. Until then, we will uphold our board’s directive and require face masks for anyone 2 and older while in college buildings. As ACC employees and agents of the college, you have the responsibility to comply with and support the implementation of board directives, including enforcing the requirement to wear face coverings within our classrooms and across the college. If you have questions about how to help enforce this requirement, please visit ACC’s COVID-19 website and review the Face Mask Protocols on our health and safety protocols page.
It’s up to each of us to do our part to follow all health and safety protocols that have been adopted. We will keep you updated as the case progresses through the court and as our protocols evolve.
In the meantime, ACC strongly urges everyone who can get a vaccine to do so. The COVID-19 vaccination remains a top recommendation to protect your health. ACC hosts COVID-19 vaccination clinics on our campus. These clinics are free and open to the community. Here is a link to our vaccination schedule. Thank you, as always, for your ongoing commitment. I am immensely proud of the work we are doing here at ACC to support both our students and one another.
Richard M. Rhodes, Ph.D.
Austin Community College District