Some of Texas ’15 school districts that have been sued last week for defying Republican government ban Greg Abbott on mask warrants are backing down on lawsuits.
One school district said Wednesday it does not have that warrant and is not quite sure why it is being sued, while another said the lawsuit against him was filed in a “cowardly” manner.
Keeping his promise to file lawsuits for what he called “unconstitutional warrants,” state Attorney General Ken Paxton began suing school districts last week.
“There will be more to come as illegality continues statewide,” Paxton tweeted Tuesday when he filed a lawsuit against nine districts.
At least eight counties and cities and 87 Texas districts or school systems have imposed mask warrants to curb the spread of the growing coronavirus, which has overwhelmed many of the state’s hospitals.
Before Paxton began suing school districts, several districts, cities, and counties filed at least nine lawsuits challenging Abbott’s ban on mask warrants.
Disability Rights Texas, a defense organization, has also filed a federal lawsuit. A federal judge on Wednesday denied the group’s request for a temporary restraining order to prevent the state from preventing school districts from needing masks.
Last month, the Texas Supreme Court temporarily blocked a mask warrant issued by San Antonio and Bexar County for its public schools. The court has not yet issued a final ruling on the matter.
Abbott has argued that a law known as the Texas Disaster Act gives it broad power in deciding how best to respond to emergencies, including whether it bans mask warrants during a pandemic. In a July executive order, Abbott reaffirmed his ban on mask warrants by any state, county or local government entity, saying wearing a mask is a matter of personal responsibility and should not be imposed by the state.
Counties, cities and school districts said Abbott has exceeded his authority.
The Texas Education Agency has said Abbott’s ban on mask warrants is not being enforced during ongoing lawsuits.
Paxton’s office attorneys have said neither Abbott’s office nor the attorney general’s authority has the authority to enforce the governor’s ban. This application would correspond to local lawyers.
The Midway City School District in central Texas, which is among those suing Paxton’s office, said it has tried to tell him he doesn’t need masks.
“We have complied with the governor’s orders while implementing reflective, measured and temporary responses to COVID case groups,” district spokeswoman Traci Marlin said in a statement.
As COVID-19 cases increase in the Midway district, officials have created an option for a 10-day mask directive to prevent campus closure.
“We use the word directive instead of mandate because it’s literally not a mandate, because in it it doesn’t apply,” Marlin said.
Paxton’s office has also sued the Paris district of Northeast Texas, which in August amended its dress code to require that masks be part of what students wear. During a court hearing Monday, a judge granted Paxton’s request for a temporary restraining order to stop the district’s mask requirement.
Dennis Eichelbaum, a Paris school district attorney, said the district was not informed of the lawsuit or hearing on Monday until two hours after the hearing ended.
“We weren’t surprised by the demand. But we were surprised by the cowardly way it presented itself,” Eichelbaum said.
Paxton’s office did not immediately respond to an email asking for comments Wednesday.
The Paris district believes that the Texas Education Code gives its board the sole authority to govern their schools, including oversight of the dress code, and that Abbott’s executive order did not suspend the education code, said Eichelbaum.
Since it required masks, the Paris district has had among the fewest absences from the COVID-19 state of any district, Eichelbaum said.
“Hopefully God willing, our numbers won’t start to increase now that the attorney general has successfully entered the courts without us and received an order prohibiting us from protecting our teachers and our students,” he said.