Texas won't enforce ban on school mask mandates amid litigation, agency says

The Texas Education Agency on Thursday said that Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) executive order banning local mask mandates in schools will not be enforced as it faces legal challenges from multiple districts. 

The agency, which oversees primary and secondary public education in the Lone Star State, said in a public health guidance that the provisions of Abbott’s school mask mandate ban “are not being enforced as the result of ongoing litigation.” 

“Further guidance will be made available after the court issues are resolved,” the agency added. 

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The order also requires school districts to notify teachers, staff and students of a positive COVID-19 test in a classroom or after-school program, marking a change from previous guidelines that did not explicitly require school districts to notify parents of close contacts. 

Local school districts must also continue to report positive COVID-19 tests to their local health department, as well as the Texas Department of State Health Services. 

“TEA recommends that public school systems consult with their local public health authorities and local legal counsel before making final decisions regarding the implementation of this guidance,” the agency said, adding that the guidance “is subject to change as new information becomes available.” 

The updated guidance comes as a handful of cities have fought back against Abbott’s executive order against mask mandates, including Austin, Dallas and San Antonio. 

The Texas Supreme Court on Sunday upheld Abbott’s ban, blocking temporary restraining orders from district judges that had allowed local school districts to defy the executive order pending litigation. 

Despite the state high court’s ruling, a Texas district judge ruled Monday that Bexar County's mask mandate could remain in place, arguing that the county had a valid interest in keep students safe, especially with children under the age of 12 unable to get the coronavirus vaccine. 

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The Dallas Independent School District also said that it still would defy Abbott’s order, with Superintendent Michael Hinojosa saying, “Until there’s an official order of the court that applies to the Dallas Independent School District, we will continue to have the mask mandate.” 

Abbott, who tested positive for COVID-19 this week despite being fully vaccinated, defended his ban following the Supreme Court’s ruling Sunday, tweeting that the “ban doesn’t prohibit using masks.” 

“Anyone who wants to wear a mask can do so, including in schools,” he said, though students cannot be forced to wear facial coverings under his executive order.