AUSTIN (KXAN) — Two groups brought in almost $7,000 so far to help school districts cover potential penalties for defying the Texas governor’s mask order.
This past weekend, Ground Game Texas and Safe Schools for All launched a fundraiser to create the “bail fund for Texas schools.” Mike Siegel, the former congressional candidate and co-founder of Ground Game Texas, said donations will help cover any fines that a school district might incur for enforcing a mask mandate.
“I want my kids to be safe, and I want all of their peers and teachers and school staff to be safe as well,” Siegel said Tuesday. “That’s what this is really about, is parents organizing to make sure our children can go to school safely.”
Siegel explained the fundraiser initially set a goal to collect $100,000. That would be enough to cover 100 potential fines, he said.
Under Gov. Greg Abbott’s order, any government entity that defies him is subject to a $1,000 fine, but it’s unclear how this would apply to school districts. A spokesperson for the governor did not immediately respond to multiple requests for comment on the matter.
School board members from the Round Rock Independent School District expressed concern about that financial penalty before they ultimately voted Monday to implement a mask mandate and also offered parents a chance to opt out their students from that requirement.
“Ideally, the governor doesn’t impose any fines at all because we think school districts should be allowed to make decisions based on public health and public safety — and not political reasons,” Siegel said. “Ideally, we can return the money to donors or use it for another beneficial purpose, but right now we’re raising money just in case the governor follows through with his threat.”
Siegel explained how school districts will be able to access the money raised through the bail fund.
“We’re going to be publicizing it,” he said. “If any fines are issued, we’re going to contact districts directly and let them know if they submit a simple invoice, we will cover the cost of any fine.”
Austin ISD began in-person classes Tuesday with the superintendent’s mask mandate still in place due to a Travis County court’s injunction. Siegel’s two young children went back to school and wore their masks because he said they’re not eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine yet.
“I have a vested interest in fighting this fight to make sure my kids are okay, and their peers are okay as well,” he said.
Siegel started Ground Game Texas earlier this year with Julie Oliver, another former congressional candidate. They said it’s focused on city-based organizing. In June the group announced it’s pursuing an initiative to amend the Austin City Code that would decriminalize marijuana and end “no knock” warrants.
“A lot of politics is about the top of the ticket — the statewide and federal campaigns,” he said, “but we’re organizing city by city on issues that people care about, including right now with school safety.”
Safe Schools for All, the other group involved in the school bail fund project, is an advocacy group of more than 100 Austin ISD parents, students, and teachers that recently formed to demand the district do more to stop COVID-19 spread during in-person learning in the new school year.