El Paso Community College nursing students marched out for a pinning ceremony this spring that marked their graduation. The college will follow a local mask mandate as classes resume. (Photo courtesy of El Paso Community College)

El Paso Community College will require students and staff to follow local mask mandates and will enlist campus police to enforce the policy if necessary, officials said.

The announcement was made by college President William Serrata during a Board of Trustees meeting this week and comes as the number of COVID-19 cases in El Paso steadily climbs.

“We follow the rules and regulations (and) the laws of our particular county,” Serrata said. “Our expectation is that all of our faculty and staff, and as well students, follow those rules and regulations.”

Earlier this week Dr. Hector Ocaranza, the city-county health authority, issued a countywide mask mandate and the city of El Paso voted to join a lawsuit challenging Gov. Greg Abbott’s ban on local orders that require face coverings.

“If we have an incident within (a) class where a student does not want to adhere to it, we have something in place to move forward with it,” Serrata said, referring to campus police enforcement.

EPCC is not alone in it’s decision. The El Paso Independent School District and Socorro School Independent District voted to mandate masks in schools earlier this week.

Currently 53% of EPCC classes will be held in person, Serrata said. In transition to in-person learning, the first day of instruction next week will completely be online.

Serrata said the school will follow the local orders until Abbott appeals a recent ruling that temporarily struck down his ban on mask mandates.

As a public institution that receives state funding, it is unclear what the consequences will be for defying state orders if Abbott’s order stands. Serrata said he is working with the school’s Cabinet to develop a plan.

The University of Texas at El Paso announced this week that they cannot defy state orders and won’t issue a mask requirement.

“As a Texas public university, we are a state agency subject to state regulations and UT System rules,” President Heather Wilson said in an email to students this week.

For many UTEP students the inability to enforce a mask mandate was a concern.

Serrata stated that the school is monitoring the uptick of COVID cases and that this a “fluid situation.” He also stated that all teachers are prepared to completely transition to online learning if necessary.

Daniel Perez covers higher education for El Paso Matters, in partnership with Open Campus.

Higher education reporter for El Paso Matters, in partnership with Open Campus.