Prohibition of Governor Abbott’s mask mandate “does not apply” amid litigation

Updated at 19:00 on August 19, 2021 to include the Texas Supreme Court ruling.

Schools seem to have much more leeway in deciding whether or not to implement a mask mandate after the Texas Education Agency issues updated health guidelines.

The agency notes that the ban on mask warrants in an executive order by Gov. Greg Abbott, which prohibits public schools from requiring facial coverage, is not being enforced due to an ongoing legal battle.

The updated guidance released Thursday includes a significant change in notification requirements by directing districts to notify “all teachers, staff and families” if a COVID-19 case confirmed by the test is identified in a classroom or activity. extracurricular. This differs from the previous TEA guidelines, which encouraged notification but did not require it.

A plethora of demands and temporary restraining orders have caused widespread confusion about mask warrants as families send their children to campus for the new school year.

In a call with state superintendents Thursday afternoon, Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath said that when it comes to masks, “this part of our orientation has essentially been removed, given the litigation “.

The state’s perspective has always been that masks should not be required, Morath said, but “this does not necessarily mean that individuals cannot use them or use them.”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend universal masking in schools, regardless of vaccination status.

On Sunday night, the Texas Supreme Court temporarily stopped a restraining order that had allowed Dallas and Bexar counties to issue mask warrants throughout the district that covered public school districts. But that same evening, a Travis County judge issued a new restraining order temporarily barring Abbott from banning mask warrants in Texas public schools.

Some Texas districts, including Richardson ISD, have used Travis County Restriction Order as a legal justification to issue a mask warrant.

Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton have vowed to take any school district to court that violates the executive order. Paxton has published a constantly evolving list of school districts and local governments that need masks.

On Thursday evening, the Texas Supreme Court upheld the new temporary restraining order, denying an initial raid on Abbott and Paxton’s request for redress on procedural grounds. The Supreme Court cited Rule 52.3 (e) of the Texas Appellate Procedure Rules, which in part states that petitions “must first be filed in the appellate court unless there is an compelling reason not to. “

In this case, the attorney general’s office did not request the repair of the lower courts.

Meanwhile, Disability Rights Texas filed the first federal lawsuit against Abbott’s ban this week, alleging that the governor’s order violates federal anti-discrimination law that prohibits the exclusion of students with disabilities from public education. . Fort Worth ISD joins a lawsuit with other districts to fight the mask mandate ban, while another Texas district, Paris ISD, adopted a dress code that required masks as a solution.

“There will be more guidance available after the court issues are resolved,” the TEA guide states.

Abbott and Paxton’s representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday afternoon.

The new state guidance also clarifies rules on how to handle students and staff identified as close contacts. ASD recommends that staff members who are not fully vaccinated and considered close contacts “remain off-campus during the period of stay at home.”

“For staff who meet the close contact threshold with a positive individual at COVID-19, if such staff continue to work on campus, rapid tests should be performed at the beginning of the day, at least once every two days until the end of the day. 10 “, says the guide.

Morath said the state will make rapid tests available to districts that need it. Administrators must secure parental permission to test students.

“This testing requirement for staff is new and consistent with the data we are seeing from the field,” he said.

The DMN Education Lab delves into coverage and conversation on urgent educational issues that are crucial to the future of North Texas.

The DMN Education Lab is a community-funded journalism initiative, supported by The Beck Group, Bobby and Lottye Lyle, Texas Communities Foundation, The Dallas Foundation, Dallas Regional Chamber, Deedie Rose, The Meadows Foundation, Solutions Journalism Network , Southern Methodist University and Todd A. Williams Family Foundation. The Dallas Morning News retains full editorial control of Education Lab journalism.