Texas Attorney General Sues More School Districts That Require Masks
The Texas attorney general’s office filed even more lawsuits Tuesday against districts that require students to wear masks to school.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced it filed suit against nine more school districts, including the Waco and Paris independent school districts. In August, Paris — a 3,800-student district about 100 miles northeast of Dallas — added masks as part of the school’s dress code “to address health issues in light of (the) pandemic.”
On Friday, Paxton filed a lawsuit against Richardson ISD, following through on his pledge to sue school districts who mandate masks.
The districts defied Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order prohibiting local entities from requiring masks. The Richardson ISD trustees voted in early September to affirm Superintendent Jeannie Stone’s decision to require face coverings, after they were forced to close an elementary school because of a spike in COVID-19 cases and a 6th grader was admitted into the intensive care unit.
Paxton noted in a release that the office anticipates filing additional lawsuits against the districts flouting the governor’s order. This could include Dallas ISD — the first to openly defy Abbott.
“Not only are superintendents across Texas openly violating state law, but they are using district resources — that ought to be used for teacher merit raises or other educational benefits — to defend their unlawful political maneuvering,” Paxton said in a statement.
Texas is monitoring how the new coronavirus is impacting schools across the state.
In a district statement, Richardson spokesperson Tim Clark stated that “RISD has not been served with such a lawsuit and does not comment on pending litigation.”
RISD officials determined masks are necessary to protect students and staff amid a surge of COVID-19 cases driven by the highly contagious delta variant. More than half of all public school students are too young to get the vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends universal masking inside schools.
“We’re seeing COVID become increasingly bad. Having to shut down Brentfield (Elementary) was an eye-opener to us,” Richardson ISD board President Karen Clardy said after last week’s emergency meeting.
SCHOOL MASK MANDATES AT A GLANCE
This information is no longer being updated. The last data update was on May 23, 2022.
MASK MANDATE BAN IN EFFECT
MASK MANDATE BAN BLOCKED, SUSPENDED, OR NOT BEING ENFORCED
3. South Carolina
MASK REQUIREMENT IN EFFECT
PREVIOUSLY HAD MASK REQUIREMENT
4. District of Columbia
11. New Jersey
12. New Mexico
13. New York
16. Rhode Island
In January 2022, the Missouri attorney general, Eric Schmitt, sued some school districts that required masks, citing a November ruling by a county judge that said local health orders tied to COVID-19 were illegal. (The ruling was interpreted differently by different districts.) The state’s treasurer announced he would also crack down on schools with mask mandates. In mid-March, Schmitt began dropping lawsuits against school districts that no longer required masks. On May 19, 2022 Schmitt announced new lawsuits against several districts that had reinstated mask requirements.
On Feb. 23, 2022, New Hampshire’s governor announced the state was no longer recommending universal indoor masking and therefore schools have to end mask mandates, arguing they violate state education department rules. Soon after, the department advised districts that the mandates “are inconsistent with” their rules. There’s disagreement over whether districts still have the authority to require masks, but at least one district changed its policy in response. A bill that would have banned mask mandates was vetoed by Gov. Sununu in May 2022.
Updated 5/23/2022 | Sources: Local media reports, Education Week reporting | Learn more here
Richardson is among the first Texas districts to be sued by Paxton. Friday he also filed suit against the Galveston, Elgin, Spring, and Sherman school districts, according to his office.
Paxton has railed against the dozens of school districts and counties who stood firm on mask mandates, repeatedly posting on social media that he would sue them all. Paxton’s office maintains an ever-evolving list of local entities that are mandating masks.
Meanwhile, Abbott’s order is tied up in both state and federal courts as districts and advocates push for mask mandates to be local decisions.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins is locked in a legal fight with the state over his decision to impose a local mask mandate for businesses and schools.
Disability Rights Texas recently escalated the legal battle, filing a federal lawsuit against Abbott, alleging his order unfairly harms children with disabilities.
Richardson trustees also recently voted to join an existing multidistrict lawsuit challenging Abbott’s ban, which argues the governor’s executive order exceeds his authority and infringes on local control.
Kindergarten students sit in their classroom on the first day of in-person learning at Maurice Sendak Elementary School in Los Angeles on April 13, 2021.
Education Department Opens Civil Rights Probes in 5 States That Ban School Mask Mandates
Evie Blad, August 30, 2021
4 min read
Paxton’s move could have federal implications, as well. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights recently opened investigations into five states that prohibit mask mandates, saying such bans may violate the federal law meant to protect students with disabilities.
Department officials indicated they had not opened an investigation into Texas because its ban isn’t currently being enforced because of court orders.
The legal wrangling over masks comes as schools are reporting thousands of new COVID-19 cases.
Schools statewide reported that nearly 74,000 students have tested positive just weeks into this school year, according to Texas Education Agency data. The state reported about 148,000 positive COVID-19 student cases for all of the last school year. Nearly 5.4 million students attend public schools in Texas.
Richardson, which enrolls roughly 37,400 kids, recorded more than 720 student cases just since early August. The district counted about 1,850 student cases total during last school year when many students were learning virtually.
RISD health services director Ashley Jones said at last week’s meeting that she’s heard from school officials that some parents are coming together and deciding not to test their children on purpose.
“This is the environment that we are starting our school with,” she warned.
The district closed Brentfield for 10 days after almost a quarter of its students were absent from in-person school last week, including 29 people with active COVID-19 cases.
The trustees said during their meeting that their main priority was keeping kids learning in-person, as safely as possible.