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Texas AG Paxton Now Suing 15 School Districts Over Masking Guidance

September 16, 2021 by Reece Nations
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton

AUSTIN, Texas — Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has expanded litigation efforts against a swath of school districts that defied Gov. Greg Abbott’s ban on mask mandates.

Paxton announced on Tuesday his office had filed lawsuits against the Paris, Diboll, Honey Grove, La Vega, Longview, Lufkin, Waco, Midway and McGregor independent school districts for violating Abbott’s executive order that prohibited local governments and school districts from instituting masking ordinances. These lawsuits are in addition to the ones filed against the Elgin, Galveston, Richardson, Round Rock, Sherman and Spring school districts last week.

Both Abbott and Paxton maintain that it is illegal for local jurisdictions to challenge an executive order issued under the governor’s emergency powers during a disaster declaration. Texas school districts have largely ignored Abbott’s order and kept mask mandates in place amid a surge of children’s hospitalizations weeks into the school year. 

“Not only are superintendents across Texas openly violating state law, but they are using district resources — that ought to be used for teacher merit raises or other educational benefits — to defend their unlawful political maneuvering,” Paxton said in a written statement. “If districts choose to spend their money on legal fees, they must do so knowing that my office is ready and willing to litigate these cases. I have full confidence that the courts will side with the law — not acts of political defiance.”

Although Midway Independent School District was among the entities being sued by Paxton’s office, district spokespersons have insisted they do not require students, teachers, staff or visitors to wear masks on their premises. Instead, Midway’s virus protocol allows for its campuses to independently issue 10-day “mask directives” that encourage face coverings without requiring them should the transmission of COVID-19 reach a certain threshold.

This week, a district court in Lamar County issued a temporary restraining order against Paris ISD over the district’s inclusion of masks in its dress code — a maneuver seen as a potential loophole around Abbott’s executive order. Previously, the Fort Worth Court of Appeals granted the Texas executives another win by reinstating a temporary injunction against Fort Worth ISD’s mask mandate.

“The law is clear, and this [Paris ISD] superintendent knows this, yet he has no issue continuing to waste precious state resources on impossible lawsuits instead of providing for his students,” Paxton said in a written statement. “This temporary restraining order is just the first step in restoring order to our great state and ending this disruption from rogue local officials.”

Paris ISD serves around 3,900 students in northeast Texas and amended its dress code to include masks in early August. The school district has not experienced any major COVID-19 outbreaks, although there are currently eight active staff cases and 27 active student cases, according to the district’s COVID-19 dashboard.

Since Aug. 13, there have been more than 73,700 cumulative positive student cases and more than 16,200 staff cases reported throughout the state’s public schools, according to the Texas Public Schools COVID-19 dashboard.

“True leaders care about the wellbeing and health of their citizens — they care about a strong economy and a thriving community,” Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa said in a written statement. “By contrast, what we have with Gov. Abbott is a menace to society. His executive orders are actively contributing to and encouraging the spread of the virus — and the more people get sick, the more stubborn he becomes in refusing to help Texans.”

At least eight cities and counties and 87 school districts or systems in the state have instituted mask mandates in defiance of Abbott’s order. Paxton’s office also sued San Antonio ISD and its superintendent this week for mandating that all of the district’s employees be vaccinated against COVID-19 in violation of another executive order signed by Abbott.

In August, the Texas Supreme Court issued a ruling that voided temporary restraining orders granted by separate District Court judges that impeded Abbott’s edict. Although Abbott had called for legislation that would prevent a confusing patchwork of rules on mask mandates by outlawing school officials from requiring face coverings, no bills on the matter had reached his desk by the end of the state’s second special legislative session.

“Texans don’t want Abbott’s illegal abortion ban, we don’t want Abbott’s bill blocking workers from getting water breaks, and we don’t want Abbott’s reckless pandemic policies that are wreaking havoc on our communities,” Hinojosa said in a written statement.

“You know what Texans want? We want access to be able to pay for health care and still make rent. We want a power grid that doesn’t fail us just when we need our heat or our AC most. And we want to be able to send our kids to school and know that our government is doing everything it can to keep them safe. The only way to make that happen is to defeat Greg Abbott and elect Texas Democrats who will put people first. And from now until November 2022, we will be fighting every single day to make that happen.” 

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