“The City of Austin and Travis County have ordered masks be worn in all public buildings and schools to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” the school district said in a release.
“Austin ISD is complying with that order and will keep the district’s mask requirement.”
The series of events began on July 29 with Governor Greg Abbott’s executive order, GA-38, prohibiting mask mandates and operating restrictions. In early August, various school districts across the state began to notify students and staff that masks would be required — a direct defiance of Abbott’s order. Austin ISD was among those.
The district even outright acknowledged its order contradicted the statewide executive order, then pointing to other districts issuing the same order as justification.
Then on August 11, the City of Austin and Travis County’s joint order requiring masks to be worn in all public buildings and properties went into effect.
Bexar and Dallas counties each secured separate preliminary victories in Texas district courts against the state and its mask mandate prohibition. But those decisions were appealed to the state’s highest court by Attorney General Ken Paxton — which delivered a temporary victory for Abbott and Paxton on Sunday night.
State officials took the order as applicable across Texas. “Let this ruling serve as a reminder to all ISDs and Local officials that the Governor’s order stands,” said the Office of the Attorney General.
The court’s orders specifically addressed the lower court directives from the two legal challenges in front of them, being Bexar and Dallas counties’. Detractors made various arguments, such as Dallas ISD’s statement that the order “did not say one word about Dallas schools” and that the court’s temporary order did not rule ultimately on the question in front of it.
While the order, issued not as lengthy opinions but short restatements of the cases and involved parties, did not mention school districts, the state’s petitions explicitly mention schools and the various localities issued the orders directly for schools and the return of classes.
The court’s final ruling has not yet been issued. But temporary restraining orders are generally issued to preserve the status quo while the cases are made — which, in this scenario, is the governor’s prohibition.
“This ruling does NOT address or decide whether school mandates are valid, nor does it rule against the local [Austin ISD] order, mine, the [Austin Public Health] or [Travis County Judge Andy Brown]’s. While we await a final decision, we believe local rules are the rules,” Austin Mayor Steve Adler said, criticizing the court’s temporary order.
“Regardless of what eventually happens in the courts, if you’re a parent, please keep fighting to have everyone in schools masked.”
Under Abbott’s order, school districts can be fined up to $1,000 per day of violation. The progressive organization Ground Game PAC announced a new fundraising campaign to pay for the fines school districts might incur by requiring masks.
As students return to school, state and local officials are involved in a legal tug of war over the issuance of mask mandates — not the wearing of masks, generally.
Abbott’s message since issuing the prohibition has been that “The ban doesn’t prohibit using masks. Anyone who wants to wear a mask can do so, including in schools.”
The local mandates were issued after coronavirus cases and hospitalizations began to rise in early July across the state. During the same period, fatalities began to rise, too, but remain vastly lower than the peaks from a year ago and seven months ago.
According to the city’s dashboard, children below the age of 19 account for 3.7 percent of the Austin area hospital district’s COVID-19 hospitalizations. According to the latest data, 45 percent of Texas is fully vaccinated and Travis County’s fully vaccinated rate is nearly 60 percent.
Austin ISD has upwards of 74,000 students under its purview and the first day of school is set for Tuesday.
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Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.