Texas Supreme Court blocks local mask mandates, the battle continues as schools reopen

District court judges granted temporary restraining orders against the enforcement of Abbott’s ban on mask mandates, specifically as they relate to school districts, last week. Three counties are currently in courts claiming that the governor does not have the authority under emergency declarations to ban mask mandates in Texas – Dallas, Bexar (San Antonio), and Harris (Houston). The Texas Supreme Court granted temporary restraining orders against Dallas and Bexar counties Sunday. Harris County is still in the appellate court phase and not affected by the court’s ruling. Harris County’s case is separate from the other two counties but a sweeping decision by the court will affect Harris County and other jurisdictions that have adopted mask requirements. This is a timely decision because school is back in session for the fall term this week in Dallas County. Schools will reopen in Harris County next Monday, August 23.

For those keeping score at home, the Texas Supreme Court justices are all Republicans, all nine of them. The officials in all three counties fighting Abbott in court are Democrats, as are the district court judges who have ruled in their favor. County officials say the mask mandates in schools will remain in effect, despite the court’s temporary order. Dallas ISD points to the fact that Dallas County wasn’t specifically named in the order.

The justices granted Abbott’s request for an emergency ruling to block lower court decisions that allowed officials in those counties to require masks in schools or indoor spaces. By doing so, the high court affirmed Abbott’s July 29 executive order that removed local authority over measures to lessen the severity of the pandemic.

Sunday’s stay is temporary; the court has yet to make a final ruling in the case. The case will continue to be heard in lower courts; Bexar County has a hearing Monday, and Dallas County has a hearing Aug. 24.

“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,” Superintendent Michael Hinojosa said Sunday. “After a court rules, then I will comply, if it’s not in my favor.”

Ground Game Texas PAC and other Democrat groups are fundraising for a “bail fund” for local schools that incur fines for defying Abbott’s order. Mask mandates are just as much a political football in Texas as they are anywhere else in the country. Here’s the thing – no one will be denied the ability to wear a face mask in a classroom if that is what the parents and children agree to do. Governor Abbott’s ban is not on the wearing of face masks. It is a ban on mandates. In other words, if a family is more comfortable sending a child to school with a face mask, go right ahead. It’s as simple as that. But, a school board or school district isn’t to be allowed to insist that all students and staff wear face masks indoors. Governor Abbott’s intent is to promote personal responsibility and not empower the nanny state.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again – Republicans believe that the government closest to the people is best. Normally we would side with local officials in having control of decisions but this is an exception. There has been no evidence provided that face masks prevent COVID-19 by the CDC or any medical authorities. The cloth masks and the disposable paper masks worn by the majority of people are not enough to block the spread of the virus. Medical grade masks are more reliable but that isn’t what most people wear. If someone feels more comfortable wearing a mask indoors among other people, go ahead. Many retail stores still ask customers to mask up. It should be a personal choice, certainly at this stage of the pandemic. We know how to protect ourselves as best as possible after living with the pandemic for eighteen months.

Bexar County has a hearing Monday, and Dallas County has a hearing on Aug. 24. County Judge Jenkins in Dallas County won against Abbott in the Fifth Court of Appeals in Dallas on the way to the Texas Supreme Court. That court is mostly Democrats. Jenkins knows this is an uphill battle. Jenkins, a Democrat, presented letters of support to the Texas Supreme Court from groups like the nonprofit Texas Association of School Boards, the Dallas County Medical Society, and the immediate past president of the Dallas County Medical Society.

“It will be us, who the grief, heartache and undoubtedly anger will be focused towards. We will carry that load, for everyone,” physician Mark A. Casanova wrote. “All we ask is that the tried-and-true intervention of universal masking be implemented in the hardest of hit areas, at the discretion of the leaders with intimate knowledge and boots on the ground.”

“I am prepared to support my colleagues as we, likely within the next several weeks, begin to tell grieving families that we do not have the adequate level of care their loved one needs. As a direct result, their loved one will die. In other instances, it may be that I will be informing a family member that it has become necessary to remove their loved one from the level of life supporting measures we are engaged in, in order to shift those endeavors to another individual who has a higher possibility of survival.”

The problem with so much political discourse in absolutely everything these days is that in medical decisions, it is hard to know what exactly is science and what is political showmanship. The findings have not proven children to be superspreaders and there were no reports of schools suffering large outbreaks of COVID-19 cases, the few that were open during the last school year during the original pandemic. They used mitigation methods and went about the business of educating students. If we are supposed to follow science, shouldn’t all schools be open this school year? If masks provide a level of emotional security, so be it. But it is not the government’s job to demand your three-year-old wear one to pre-school.

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