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The Texas Supreme Court paved the way Thursday for school districts to require people to wear masks in classrooms, at least for now.
For cities, counties and school districts that have challenged Gov. Greg Abbott by issuing mask warrants to public schools, Thursday’s ruling is a victory over a technicality: the high court overturned the orders of temporary restraint of a Travis County judge against Abbott’s mask ban warrants. The court order cited a provision that normally requires matters to go to a court of appeal before it reaches the highest civil court in the state.
Paxton on Tuesday asked the Supreme Court to overturn a series of temporary restraining orders issued by state district judge Jan Soifer that allowed Harris County and eight school districts to apply for masks at public schools. Soifer also ruled that Abbott could not enforce his executive order banning mask warrants “against Texas’ independent school districts.”
Local mask warrants in public schools are trying to protect children from education too young to be vaccinated against COVID-19, as the highly contagious delta variant of COVID-19 continues to spread across the state. Abbott, vaccinated, tested positive for coronavirus on Tuesday, but showed no symptoms.
The Supreme Court order is a severe blow to Abbott and Paxton. For the past two weeks, they have tried to defeat cities, counties, and school districts that have defied Abbott’s order or completely ignored it. Some 58 school districts and eight counties have instituted warrants of some sort, according to a list compiled by Paxton, whose office argued that local warrants caused “massive confusion” in Texas.
The Texas education agency said Thursday that Abbott’s mask order is not being executed due to an ongoing lawsuit.
While the state high court continues to allow other legal challenges to arise, Abbott could also soon be fighting the war against mask mandates on multiple fronts.
Abbott’s ban has sparked a federal lawsuit from a disability rights group representing 14 children alleging that Abbott’s order violates federal protections for students with disabilities because it prevents them from returning to face-to-face classes safely. And on Wednesday, President Joe Biden directed the U.S. Department of Education to use its authority to enforce civil rights to prosecute states that prevent mask warrants in public schools.
Amid legal chaos, many school districts have abandoned plans to apply for masks. But others have moved forward with theirs. In a new approach, the Paris Independent School District made the masked dress part of the school dress code for students and employees.
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