By Paul Best
Texas schools will not have to obey Gov. Greg Abbott’s ban on mask mandates while lawsuits challenging his executive order make their way through the legal system, the Texas Education Agency said Thursday.
More than 50 school districts throughout Texas had a mask mandate in place as of Friday afternoon, making them non-compliant with executive order GA-38, according to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.
Gov. Abbott issued that order last month, which says “no governmental entity, including a county, city, school district, and public health authority, and no governmental official may require any person to wear a face covering or to mandate that another person wear a face covering.”
AUSTIN, TX – MAY 18: Texas Governor Greg Abbott at a press conference at the Texas State Capitol in Austin on Monday, May 18, 2020. (Photo by Lynda M. Gonzalez-Pool/Getty Images)
The Dallas Independent School District was the first to implement a mask mandate last week, with Superintendent Michael Hinojosa saying that “despite whatever authority the governor has, he is responsible for the state of Texas and I’m responsible for Dallas ISD.”
School districts in Austin, San Antonio, and elsewhere quickly followed suit. Abbott and the Attorney General claimed they would sue any entity that doesn’t follow the executive order, but the Texas Supreme Court declined to void a restraining order on Thursday evening that allows school districts to enforce mask mandates right now.
Parents, local governments, and school boards have mounted other legal campaigns to allow mask mandates in schools. One of those lawsuits was filed Tuesday in federal court in Austin by Disability Rights Texas on behalf of the families of more than a dozen disabled students.
“If school districts are unable to implement COVID-19 protocol as they each deem appropriate, parents of medically vulnerable students will have to decide whether to keep their children at home or risk placing them in an environment that presents a serious risk to their health and safety,” the lawsuit says.
The Texas Education Agency said Thursday that further guidance on masks “will be made available after the court issues are resolved.”
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The fight over school mask mandates comes as Texas battles a third wave of the coronavirus pandemic that is primarily driven by the more contagious delta variant.
The 7-day average for new cases in Texas was 19,900 on Thursday, roughly one month after it reached a 2021 low-point of 1,065 on July 15, according to Johns Hopkins University data.