Texas attorney general: Local health authorities can’t close schools

Ken Paxton: 'That decision rightfully remains with school system leaders'

AUSTIN, Texas – Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Tuesday said local health authorities may not issue sweeping orders closing schools to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Paxton said the role of local health authorities is to address specific, actual outbreaks of disease and that public and private school officials are the appropriate people to decide whether, when and how to open school.

“Education of our children is an essential Texas value and there is no current statewide order prohibiting any school from opening,” Paxton said in a news release. “While local health authorities may possess some authority to close schools in limited circumstances, they may not issue blanket orders closing all schools on a purely preventative basis. That decision rightfully remains with school system leaders.”

Paxton said he issued the guidance in a response to a request from Stephenville Mayor Doug Svien.

The attorney general’s statement comes nearly two weeks after the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District issued a directive that prohibits public school districts in Bexar County to offer face-to-face instruction until after Sept. 7.

The directive states that students will have access to academics via virtual learning and that teachers can use classrooms for video streaming if they are alone in a classroom and the school occupancy doesn’t exceed 10%.

San Antonio City Attorney Andy Segovia released the following statement in regard to Paxton’s statement:

“The goal of this health directive, which applies to all schools, is to minimize the risk of exposing children, parents and school staff to COVID-19. San Antonio continues to report hundreds of new cases of COVID-19 per day, the positivity rate remains high, the hospital system is under severe stress and pediatric cases continue to rise week over week. The health directive is consistent with Governor Abbott’s March order that mandated virtual learning while the virus was just beginning to spread in Texas. All schools complied with the Governor’s March order without raising any Constitutional concerns. We will seek a speedy resolution of this matter.”

About the Author:

David Ibañez has been managing editor of KSAT.com since the website's launch in October 2000.