“[T]he Texas Disaster Act expressly limits the Governor’s commander-in-chief authority to state agencies, state boards, and state commissions having emergency responsibilities,” Texas Fourth Court of Appeals Justice Irene Rios wrote in the memorandum opinion, issued July 27.
“The District is not a state agency, a state board, or a state commission.”
When SAISD implemented a vaccine requirement for staff last August, it defied Governor Greg Abbott’s executive order against vaccine mandates. However, that order only forbade public authorities from requiring workers to get COVID-19 vaccines not yet approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). After a lawsuit from the state, SAISD walked back the requirement.
The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine was approved by the FDA just days later. Abbott then issued another executive order, GA-39, that forbids COVID-19 vaccine mandates regardless of FDA approval.
SAISD continued to enforce its vaccine mandate, prompting another state lawsuit on essentially the same grounds.
The state asked the lower court to grant an order blocking the mandate. When the court declined to issue the temporary injunction, the state appealed to the Fourth Court of Appeals.
Rios found that the Texas Disaster Act, the basis for Abbott’s COVID-19 executive orders, does not grant him the authority to supersede school board mandates.
The Texas Education Code delegates broad authority to school boards, which widely defied Abbott’s mask mandate ban during the pandemic.
Additionally, the Texas Disaster Act authorizes the governor to “control ingress and egress to and from a disaster area” during a catastrophe.
Rios said a vaccine mandate does not directly involve this authority.
“Moreover, nothing in the District’s vaccine mandate precludes individuals from entering the schools within the district because they are not vaccinated,” the opinion reads.
“Instead, the District’s vaccination mandate specifically applies only to employees as a condition of employment, not as a condition of ‘ingress and egress,’ ‘occupancy of premises,’ or ‘movement of persons within the school district.’”
Due to an order issued by the Supreme Court of Texas last October, the vaccine mandate cannot currently be enforced.
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