With Texas AG’s blessing, San Antonio religious schools prepare for students’ return to campus

AG Ken Paxton says local orders prohibiting in-person instruction don’t apply to religious schools

West Side warehouse demolished to make way for new apartments

SAN ANTONIO – At least some San Antonio-area religious schools are preparing to bring students back to campus weeks before their public school counterparts.

While the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District has forbidden any private or public schools from resuming in-person instruction this fall until at least after Labor Day over COVID-19 concerns, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has said such local orders don’t apply to religious schools. With Paxton’s blessing, some San Antonio schools have already announced plans to bring students back.

“August 17th, Cornerstone Christian Schools will be open with children attending class on campus in their classrooms,” Pastor Mike Hagee said in a video the school posted on its Facebook page Monday.

Parents of St. Matthew’s Catholic School students received a message Wednesday from Principal Geneva Salinas, giving them the option of sending their children to campus on Aug. 17 or staying home for distance learning.

On Jul. 17, the same day that Metro Health issued its directive to schools and Ken Paxton issued his letter, Archdiocese of San Antonio Superintendent of Catholic Schools Marti West wrote a letter to Catholic school families, saying each school had worked to customize its plans for the new school year.

West also wrote that “we have heard some comments such as, ‘If schools open remotely, we will go to public schools because of the tuition.’ It is a challenging reality we face that if families choose the ‘free’ option of remote learning during this time, we may not have the same number of Catholic schools in operation to return to when this crisis is over.”

Reached by text on Monday, an archdiocese spokesman said the start date for Catholic schools remains Aug. 17, and “the Archdiocese of San Antonio Department of Catholic Schools will continue to assess the on- or off-campus situation and is prepared for both scenarios.”

Staff at the San Antonio Christian School said Wednesday that its board had met Tuesday night, and they were working on a plan that they hoped to send out to families this week. However, they would not indicate which way they were leaning.

The city appears unlikely to try to force religious schools to comply with its order.

City spokeswoman Laura Mayes said late Wednesday night via text message the city “will work to ensure compliance with all public and private schools, which are covered by the health directive.”

However, when pressed on what the city would do if religious schools were to press ahead with reopening, in violation of the Metro Health directive, Mayes said “we will continue to discuss implementation of the directive with ALL schools in Bexar County ahead of the start of the semester to ensure compliance.”

In a Q&A with KSAT Wednesday night, Mayor Ron Nirenberg said he would prefer if religious schools followed recommendations made by medical professionals and not elected officials.

About the Authors:

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.

Luis Cienfuegos is a photographer at KSAT 12.