Some school districts in Texas pushing back against governor’s mask mandate ban

Law professor explains executive orders and the power they actually have

SAN ANTONIO – The Texas State Teachers Association is applauding Dallas Independent School District and Austin ISD after announcing they will require masks amid a surge in COVID-19 cases across the state, defying Gov. Greg Abbott’s ban on mask mandates.

“Everybody that’s fighting this mask prohibition of a mandate is doing so because they’re looking at their communities and seeing that if this is needed, we have to have this control,” said Ovidia Molina, president of the Texas State Teachers Association.

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Molina said more school districts should join Dallas ISD and Austin ISD in defying Governor Abbott’s order prohibiting mask mandates.

Abbott issued his latest executive order on July 29. It restricts any local government, including school districts that receive state funds, from requiring COVID-19 vaccinations, vaccine passports or face masks.

Randall Erben, professor at the University of Texas at Austin’s School of Law, said Abbott can create executive orders when he has declared a disaster.

“So since the school districts derive all their authority from state law and the governor, in an executive order with the force effect of state law, has prohibited that, then you’re on a collision course between the school district who decided to do this and this executive order,” Erben said.

Entities that do not comply with the order face a fine of up to $1,000.

Erben, who was Abbott’s legislative director in 2015, said it would be up to the governor, attorney general or some other entity on behalf of the state to enforce the order. He said it’s difficult to tell what will happen with some school districts’ lawsuits against the state.

“It’s to be determined as to whether these requirements are -- the requirements of the executive order will be upheld. It’s my guess that the Texas Supreme Court would uphold the executive order,” Erben said.

For now, local school districts that have already started classes are expected to follow the mask mandate by local health authorities.

“We know as educators, we have seen what COVID can do, and we don’t want to have a case that could have been prevented,” Molina said.

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