Texas Supreme Court sides with governor and temporarily blocks mask mandates

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order last month that barred governmental entities, including school districts, from requiring mask wearing.

By Rosa Flores, Keith Allen and Alaa Elassar, CNN

(CNN) -- The Texas Supreme Court sided with Gov. Greg Abbott on Sunday in a ruling that temporarily blocks mask mandates recently issued in San Antonio and Dallas, though local officials said they will continue to enforce at least a portion of the mask mandates.

The Texas high court granted stay orders Sunday, but previously scheduled hearings on local mask mandates in lower courts in Bexar and Dallas counties will proceed as scheduled.

The ruling is the latest in a series of conflicts across the state -- and the country -- over mask mandates as coronavirus cases surge and schools gear up for reopening while students younger than 12 still aren't ineligible for a Covid-19 vaccine.

Abbott issued an executive order last month that barred governmental entities, including school districts, from requiring mask wearing. Officials in Dallas and Bexar counties, which includes San Antonio, requested restraining orders against enforcement of Abbott's order, which were granted.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said Friday he appealed the lower court rulings to the Texas Supreme Court and tweeted after the court decision Sunday, "Let this ruling serve as a reminder to all ISDs and Local officials that the Governor's order stands."

Dallas Independent School District Superintendent Michael Hinojosa, however, said the court's ruling does not pertain to his district, even as Paxton mentioned the Dallas ISD in his tweet.

"We're going to keep the mask mandate in place. As that order was issued, it applied to Dallas County only. School districts were not mentioned in the order. My name was not mentioned in the order, and contrary to what the AG tweeted out, a tweet is not an order. He said that it applied to us, but it does not," he told CNN on Monday.

School district attorneys are reviewing the ruling, and Hinojosa will reexamine his stance if the court specifies his district, he said, but his concern is protecting students and staff -- and he's prepared to implement a $100 million virtual learning option, with or without state funding.

"I've asked my people to be benevolent but be firm, give them an opportunity to comply and then have alternatives in place if they don't, but we cannot risk -- the way this virus is spreading all over town -- we cannot risk students walking through our building without masks," he said.

Hinojosa acknowledged one teacher has filed a grievance and a parent wrote him a "threatening letter" saying he was going to sue, but the superintendent estimated 95% of the feedback he's received has been positive, with some folks offering to pay any fine he incurs.

Among the support he said he's received is a long voice mail from President Joe Biden, who thanked him "for having the courage to stand up for our students and our community."

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, who asked for the temporary restraining order against Abbott's executive order, reacted to the state Supreme Court decision on Sunday, noting the temporary injunction hearing set for August 24 will go forward.

"We won't stop working with parents, doctors, schools, business + others to protect you and intend to win that (temporary injunction) hearing," Jenkins tweeted.

The judge significantly amended his order Monday by removing penalties for noncompliant businesses. While Jenkins left the rest of the order in place and while he is strongly urging businesses and other entities to require masks, the order no longer has a method of enforcement.

Bexar County officials also said Sunday night they will continue to enforce the mask mandate in public schools and city facilities, despite the state Supreme Court ruling.

"The City of San Antonio and Bexar County's response to the Texas Supreme Court continues to emphasize that the Governor cannot use his emergency powers to suspend laws that provide local entities the needed flexibility to act in an emergency," San Antonio City Attorney Andy Segovia said in a statement. "His suspension authority is meant to facilitate action, not prohibit it," Segovia noted.

"Bexar County Health Authority Dr. Junda Woo's health directive mandating the use of masks in public schools from pre-kindergarten through grade 12th remains in effect. City facilities will also continue to require the use of masks for both staff and visitors," Segovia's statement reads.

On Saturday, the Texas Department of State Health Services reported 21,896 new Covid-19 cases across the state.

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