Texas Supreme Court Rules Allows School Mask Mandates to Remain (For Now)

Nearly 50 school districts across Texas have enacted some sort of mask requirement, and after vowing to end that, Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton were dealt a blow from the entirely Republican Texas Supreme Court. 

On Wednesday, Paxton said he was making a list of schools that were running contrary to Abbott’s executive order that prohibited mask mandates. 

(Read: As Court Dates Await, More School Districts Issue Mask Requirements)

Tuesday night, Fort Worth ISD school board trustees voted 6-2 to join a lawsuit fighting Abbott’s orders. The suit was filed by La Joya ISD

Dallas ISD has not yet joined any lawsuits, but was one of the first districts to enact a mandate after a concerning and rapid rise in cases of the delta variant of COVID-19. 

(Read: Dallas ISD Will Temporarily Require Masks)

Thursday evening’s ruling from the Texas Supreme Court denied Abbott’s petition for a temporary injunction to stop districts from enacting masks requirements for campuses.

“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,” Paxton’s filing said.

The justices denied the request largely on procedural grounds, citing the state Rules of Appellate Procedure that require petitions be presented first to the court of appeals “unless there is a compelling reason not to do so.”

Thursday also saw a reversal by the Texas Education Agency on recommendations that schools didn’t need to inform parents, staff, or teachers, when they or their child were in close contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19.

Previous guidance didn’t require schools to inform those “close contact” individuals, or engage in contact tracing. Thursday’s updated guidance requires districts to notify parents and guardians, staff, and teachers when there is a positive case in a classroom or extracurricular or after-school activity.

“Consistent with school notification requirements for other communicable diseases, and consistent with legal confidentiality requirements, schools must notify all teachers, staff, and families of all students in a classroom or extracurricular or after-school program cohort if a test-confirmed COVID-19 case is identified among students, teachers or staff who participated in those classrooms or cohorts,” the guidance read.

It also informed districts that it would not issue guidance on masking, citing the litigation surrounding the matter.

Dallas ISD also announced that it would begin taking applications for a virtual option immediately. The district’s Virtual Academy will open on Aug. 24, and parents have until Aug. 23 at 10 a.m. to apply.

“ … while we recommend as many students as possible participate in on-campus learning due to the benefits, we understand parent and student concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic,” the district said on its website. 

The virtual option is only open for students who are 11 and younger as of Aug. 16, with students not currently enrolled given priority. Students of any age who qualify for homebound services will be eligible as well. 

“We strongly encourage all students currently attending school in-person with safety protocols maintain the in-person as we know this is the BEST option for academic improvement and social and emotional support,” the district added.

Earlier in the day, 51 state representatives asked Abbott and Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath to fully fund online schooling.

SY 20 21 Public Health Guidance by PeopleNewspapersDallas on Scribd

Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson, Digital Editor at People Newspapers, cut her teeth on community journalism, starting in Arkansas. Recently, she's taken home a few awards for her writing, including first place for her tornado coverage from the National Newspapers Association's 2020 Better Newspaper Contest, a Gold award for Best Series at the 2018 National Association of Real Estate Editors journalism awards, a 2018 Hugh Aynesworth Award for Editorial Opinion from the Dallas Press Club, and a 2019 award from NAREE for a piece linking Medicaid expansion with housing insecurity. She is a member of the Education Writers Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Association of Real Estate Editors, the News Leaders Association, the News Product Alliance, and the Online News Association. She doesn't like lima beans, black licorice or the word synergy. You can reach her at bethany.erickson@peoplenewspapers.com.

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