Texas Won't Enforce Governor's Mask Mandate Ban for Now

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U.S.|Texas drops enforcement of governor’s mask mandate ban for now.


Students and teachers wearing their school-required masks wait for parents to arrive outside Lamar Elementary School in San Antonio, Tx.
Credit...Matthew Busch for The New York Times
  • Aug. 19, 2021Updated 10:45 p.m. ET

The Texas Education Agency said it would temporarily stop enforcing Gov. Greg Abbott’s ban on mask mandates Thursday and the State Supreme Court issued a ruling allowing school districts to require face-coverings. Both decisions are temporary.

The agency said in new guidance that it would immediately stop enforcing the ban on mask mandates until litigations were resolved.

In a reversal, the agency’s new guidance requires schools to notify their local health department if a student tests positive. The school must also notify students in the same classroom as well as those who share extracurricular activities.

As coronavirus hospitalizations have again surged in the state, nearing last year’s peaks, Mr. Abbott has resisted calls for new mandates and doubled down on his ban.

The governor’s mask mandate ban has been making its way through the courts as school districts and parents have continued to challenge it. Seven counties and 48 school districts have defied the governor by ordering mask mandates, The Associated Press reported. Several large cities, including Dallas, San Antonio and Houston, have bucked the governor’s ban.

School districts say they need mask mandates to combat a spike in pediatric cases, just as they face the monumental task of trying to get students back to in-person learning and reverse the devastating setbacks experienced by a range of students. A confluence of factors — including the Delta virus variant’s contagiousness and the fact that people under 12 are not yet eligible to be vaccinated — is sending more children to hospitals, especially in areas of the country where the virus is surging, like Texas.

New daily cases in Texas have increased by 37 percent over the past two weeks, approaching the peak levels of winters, according to a New York Times database, as the virus stretches hospitals in hotspots to their limits. According to the most recent data from the Texas Department of State Health Services, 829 students and 872 school staff members had tested positive for the coronavirus as of Aug. 8, the A.P. reported.

Last week, after Mr. Abbott’s ban suffered at least three legal setbacks, the state attorney general, Ken Paxton, said that he was taking the issue to the State Supreme Court. The setbacks were in areas with Democratic leaders, rampant cases and rising hospitalizations.

The State Supreme Court sided with the governor on Sunday, ruling temporarily that schools could not make masks mandatory.

Thursday’s ruling denied the governor’s request to block a Travis County judge’s temporary restraining order that allowed mask mandates. The court said the attorney general should have taken his case first to an appellate court.

In another legal fight, parents of young children with disabilities filed a federal lawsuit against Governor Abbott on Tuesday over his ban, arguing that it prevents their medically at-risk children from being able to attend school safely.

On Tuesday, Mr. Abbott’s office announced the governor, 63, had tested positive for the coronavirus and had no symptoms, but had begun receiving monoclonal antibody treatment. The governor received his first vaccine dose in December.

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