Texas Supreme Court sides with school districts in latest mask mandate legal challenge

LM Otero/AP

The Texas Supreme Court sided with Texas school districts on Thursday, keeping in place temporary orders allowing for mask mandates as students return to the classroom.

The court denied a request from the state to stop such mandates by undoing temporary restraining orders granted by lower courts. The court’s announcement is the latest in a string of conflicting orders related to whether mask mandates should be allowed in public schools.

A Travis County district judge on Sunday granted temporary restraining orders in challenges to Abbott’s ban on mask mandates from The Southern Center for Child Advocacy affecting schools statewide, Harris County and La Joya ISD and seven other school districts. That day the Texas Supreme Court overturned temporary restraining orders from lower courts in similar cases related to Dallas and Bexar counties.

The Texas Attorney General’s office then took the three cases in Travis County court to the Texas Supreme Court, arguing Abbott is “the commander in chief” of Texas’ disaster response.

“The ongoing disregard of the law by certain local officials is causing mass confusion in Texas, necessitating intervention by this Court to provide clarity and statewide uniformity,” a petition filed by the state reads.

In denying Attorney General Ken Paxton’s request, the court pointed to a part of the Texas Rules of Appellate Procedures stating that a petition must be presented to a lower court of appeals “unless there is a compelling reason not to do so.”

The Fort Worth school board on Tuesday voted to join the La Joya ISD lawsuit, which argues that Abbott’s order can’t limit its rights as an employer and educational institution to implement safety measures.

Fort Worth ISD Superintendent Kent Scribner on Aug. 10 announced that schools will require face coverings. However, parents of students asked a district judge to temporarily block the district’s rule — a request that was granted. A preliminary injunction hearing is set for Aug. 26.

The judge found that the mandate violated the Texas Open Meetings Act and that it was “made without authority and actually an illegal act” under Abbott’s executive order.

The district was not requiring masks when students returned to class this week.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo called the Supreme Court’s order a “big win” in a Thursday tweet.

“The TX Supreme Court just declined the state’s request to stop our Harris County school mask order, at least for now. TEA also issued new guidance that mask prohibitions aren’t enforced during litigation,” she said. “Our order remains in place. This is a victory for our kids’ health.”

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.