The Texas Supreme Court on Sunday temporarily halted lower court rulings that allowed local government entities and school districts to implement mask mandates in defiance of an order from Governor Greg Abbott. A hearing on the earlier temporary injunction is scheduled for Monday.
Sunday’s ruling affects Dallas and Bexar Counties, which had both reinstated some form of mask mandate in recent days. In Dallas County, a judge ruled last week that masks would be required inside schools and businesses. In Bexar County, where San Antonio is located, a lower court ruled on Friday that local leaders had the authority to mandate masks in schools.
Abbott had previously signed an executive order that banned schools and local governments from requiring masks. He and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed to block the Dallas County mask rules, but an appeals court on Friday sided with Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, who issued the mask mandate. Abbott and Paxton then appealed to the state Supreme Court. Paxton argued that the Texas Disaster Act of 1975 gives Abbott broad authority to dictate the statewide disaster response.
The city of San Antonio released a statement Sunday saying Bexar County’s mask mandate in all public schools from pre-k through 12th grade will remain in effect, CBS affiliate KENS-TV reports. “City facilities will also continue to require the use of masks for both staff and visitors,” the statement added.
The city’s statement also said that the state Supreme Court’s ruling had “little practical effect,” as the temporary injunctions were set to expire Monday anyway because of that day’s scheduled hearing. The city also noted that no ruling was handed down on Paxton’s argument citing the disaster act.
City Attorney Andy Segovia said in a statement, “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. His suspension authority is meant to facilitate action, not prohibit it.”
Despite the Supreme Court’s ruling, the Dallas Independent School District announced Sunday night that masks will still be required while on district property. Dallas ISD also said visitors will not be allowed inside schools.
Irving ISD, however, said Sunday that it will follow the Texas Supreme Court’s decision.
“This afternoon, the Texas Supreme Court temporarily blocked the masks requirement mandate issued by Dallas County last week, which affects our public schools in Irving. Irving ISD will adhere to the Supreme Court’s decision until further guidance on the matter is provided,” the district said in a tweet.
Irving ISD did add that all students, staff and visitors are “highly encouraged” to wear masks.
“Although masks are optional, we trust our employees and all other stakeholders to take personal responsibility,” the district said. “As a community, we have a shared commitment to protecting not only ourselves but also those around us.”
The mandates were ordered as new coronavirus cases surge in the Lone Star State, fueled by the highly contagious Delta variant and low vaccination rates. White House coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients said last week that Texas and Florida accounted for nearly 40% percent of all new COVID-related hospitalizations in the U.S. Texas on Sunday reported 11,500 people hospitalized with COVID, the highest number since January, according to The Associated Press.
Just under 55% of all eligible Texas residents are fully vaccinated, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services.