The Texas Supreme Court issued a ruling Sunday temporarily blocking mask mandates, a major setback for state counties and local institutions trying to follow public health guidelines amid a surge in COVID-19 cases. and hospitalizations in Texas.
The justices granted Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s request for an emergency stay temporarily halting lower court decisions overturning his ban on mask mandates. The ruling applies specifically to Dallas and Bexar counties.
“Local mask mandates are illegal under GA-38Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement. “May this ruling serve as a reminder to all ISDs and local officials that the governor’s order stands.”
The ruling comes after about two dozen school districts and several Texas counties challenged Abbott’s May executive order prohibiting local entities from imposing mask mandates. Abbott, like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, argued that his order is meant to allow people to choose whether they want to wear a mask, rather than a mandate imposed by the government.
On August 10, the Dallas Independent School District announced that the district was temporarily requiring all staff and students to wear a mask when on district property. The district it was the first in texas issue a mask mandate, stating that Abbott’s order “does not limit the rights of the district as an employer and educational institution to establish reasonable and necessary safety rules for its staff and students.”
Since then, about two dozen school districts in Texas have decided to require masks for the new school year. Bexar County and its county seat of San Antonio won a lower court battle against Abbott Tuesday to have the authority to require masks in public schools.
On Friday, the San Antonio Fourth Court of Appeals upheld that ruling, allowing Bexar County to require masks in public schools, according to the Texas Tribune. The Fifth Dallas Court of Appeals later confirmed a more far-reaching order from Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, which on Wednesday began demanding masks in schools, universities and businesses.
“This is not the first time we have dealt with activist characters. It’s deja vu again, ”Paxton said in a statement at the time Jenkins signed his order. “Attention-grabbing judges and mayors have defied executive orders before, when the pandemic began, and the courts ruled on our side – the law.”
In the state’s petition to the Supreme Court of Texas, Paxton and Abbott argued that the Texas Disaster Act of 1975 empowers the governor to act as the “commander-in-chief” of the state’s response to a disaster. Attorneys representing cities and counties that have sued Abbott over the ban, such as Bexar County, said the order should not override local orders.
Dallas ISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa responded to the Texas Supreme Court ruling arguing that his district will continue his masquerade mandate. Hinojosa said the court order applies to Dallas County and does not mention the school district, according to KTVT-TV. The Dallas ISD website still says that students and staff must cover their faces.
The recent rise in COVID-19 is driven by the highly contagious delta variant, leading to an increase in cases and hospitalizations across the state and across the South. The increase has particularly affected children, as many of them are under the age of 12, an age group that is not yet eligible to receive the vaccine.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released a guide recommending universal masking for students and school staff. Many teachers and families in Texas, particularly parents of children who are especially vulnerable to the virus, have expressed concern that the virus will spread like wildfire as the school year begins if districts do not impose mask mandates.
The increase, along with the concern of parents and staff, is leading to a growing number of districts to impose mask mandates, including some of the larger ones like Dallas ISD, Houston ISD, and Austin ISD.
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