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Despite Court Order, Some Texas Schools Maintain Mask Mandates

Featured, Government

Teacher and students wearing masks in classroom. | Image from paulaphoto

Although the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Governor Greg Abbott’s ban on school mask mandates, these mandates will stay in place at several independent school districts (ISDs) through 2022.

According to Isaiah Mitchell of The Texan, Austin ISD, Houston ISD, and Dallas ISD will continue enforcing their mask mandates.

“The Fifth Circuit’s recent order did not affect our mask mandate. The Travis County District court’s order upholding our mandate remains in effect and is pending on appeal to the Texas Third Court of Appeals,” an Austin ISD spokesman declared. “We expect a decision from the Third Court next year.”

The superintendent of Dallas ISD revealed to the media that the district’s mask mandate will stay in place until Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Similarly, Houston ISD stated that the ruling will not change its current mask policy.

“The ruling does not impact the requirement that students, staff, and visitors must wear masks while on HISD property. This mandate remains in place for HISD schools,” the district announced.

“HISD, along with other school districts, is a party to a separate lawsuit in state court that is not based on the federal laws protecting students with disabilities. Rather, it is based on state law, and the right of local districts to make health and safety decisions regarding their students.”

However, the recent ruling has convinced some districts to stop their mask mandates.

San Antonio ISD, which had previously been caught in a legal battle over Abbott’s mask mandate in state court, announced that it would abide by the Fifth Circuit’s order.

As reported by The Dallas Express, Abbott first prohibited school mask mandates in May by issuing executive order GA-36. Abbot subsequently pushed the envelope even further in July with the issuance of executive order GA-38,  which threatens to punish schools that mandate masks with fines of up to $1,000.

At the start of the school year, school districts and charter school networks statewide began to skirt GA-38 by maintaining their mask requirements.

As covered by The Dallas Express, Attorney General Ken Paxton has filed multiple lawsuits against school districts in state court over the mask requirements.

Disability Rights Texas, an advocacy group in favor of mask mandates, filed a lawsuit against the state on behalf of seven children with disabilities or fragile immune systems. This group claims that Abbott’s mask mandate prohibition puts these children at risk of COVID-19 infections, preventing them from attending school.

In addition, the group asserts that the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), a federal COVID-19 relief package that Congress passed under the Biden administration’s watch, grants schools the authority to establish their health guidelines.

Disability Rights Texas won a case in district court after Judge Lee Yeakel issued an injunction that prevented the state from enforcing Abbot’s order, thereby allowing schools statewide to keep their respective mask mandates.

This victory was short-lived when a panel of judges at the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the injunction and issued a ruling on December 2 that the school mask mandate ban will remain in place while they mull over the case.

The judges’ order allows the state to enforce GA-38 against schools that continue with mask requirements, a task that has been under Paxton’s exclusive purview.

According to Mitchell, “Although GA-38 says that the governor may penalize rogue schools with fines, Paxton’s lawsuits seem to be the state’s only method of enforcement so far.”

Paxton argued in several court documents that local district attorneys, not the state government, are the actors who should be enforcing GA-38.

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