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'Our context is working for us': The North Texas districts requiring masks, online learning are predominately low-income, Black and Hispanic

In late November 2021, the CDC reported communities of color were likely to die or be hospitalized because of the virus.

DALLAS — When Dallas Independent School District students return to the classroom Wednesday, they will still be required to wear masks. They'll be required to wear them until at least mid-March.  

"Based upon the data review and consultation with the health professionals, we decided that was in the best interest of the district," said Dallas ISD Superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa.   

The district's mask mandate was set to be lifted later this month. 

Hinojosa said he'd been in contact with Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins over the holiday break and was alerted the county's COVID risk level was elevated.

“As much as I want to lift that, the conditions do not allow," said Hinojosa. 

Depending on case numbers, Hinojosa said the plan is lift the mandate after spring break.  

RELATED: Judge Clay Jenkins says pandemic will still be the largest problem for Dallas County in 2022 

Duncanville ISD will also continue to require masks, according a message from Superintendent Dr. Marc Smith last week. 

Both districts, and some others in Dallas County, made the decision to implement mask mandates last semester, despite Governor Greg Abbott's executive order banning school districts from requiring masks. 

"I’m not upset with the governor," Hinojosa said. "He’s got a big, complex state to run, but I’ve got a big complex school district to run.”

Since the earliest COVID-19 data was released, there's been a trend of a disproportionate impact the virus has on Black and Hispanic communities.  

In late November 2021, the CDC reported communities of color were likely to be die or be hospitalized because of the virus.

More than 91% of Dallas ISD students are Black or Hispanic, and 85% of the district's households are economically disadvantaged, according to data from the Texas Education Agency.

The disparity in COVID-19 outcomes for Black and Hispanic communities has been attributed to a number of factors, like a disproportionate number of people with underlying conditions, poverty and lack of access to healthcare. 

Throughout the pandemic, these communities have also dealt with less access to social distancing within their homes, in case one family member were to get COVID-19, not being able to work from home and the financial hardship of the pandemic hitting households that are already vulnerable. 

Hinojosa said these factors mean his district's approach to the virus has to look different than other North Texas communities. 

"We have to think of local control and what’s in our best interest," Hinojosa said. “Many of our parents are working parents. They don’t have the opportunity to stay home with their kids."

While Duncanville ISD did not cite demographics for its reason behind upholding its mask mandate, the district is also majority Black and Hispanic with families mostly in underserved communities. 

Lancaster ISD students will do online learning this week. A district representative said the plan is to evaluate case numbers at the end of the week, with the hope of returning in-person next Monday. 

Lancaster ISD is 96% Black and Hispanic. 

In April 2020, the district was the first to lose a student to COVID-19 when 17-year-old Jameela Dirrean-Emoni Barber passed away.

A member of the district's school board said losing Barber was something the they'll never forget, and they've been prepared to pivot if necessary since school started. 

RELATED: Lancaster high schooler becomes youngest to die from COVID-19 complications in Dallas County, officials say

Lancaster ISD will hold two testing clinics on Wednesday and Thursday at Lancaster Middle School. To register, go to cov19.health and use code LTRINDSD. 

Dallas ISD will continue to offer its testing sites as well as expanded services, including have nurses available to test students and staff at every campus. 

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