Appeals court sides against Gov. Abbott, upholds Bexar County mask mandate in schools

Abbott, AG Ken Paxton sought to nix temporary restraining order that allowed county mandate

from left: San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff. (KSAT)

SAN ANTONIO – Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton were dealt another blow in court on Friday after the Fourth Court of Appeals sided against them in their efforts to undo Bexar County’s mask mandate in public schools.

On Thursday, the statewide officials filed an appeal seeking to reverse a Bexar County judge’s temporary restraining order that allowed the county to mandate masks in school. The court denied the emergency motion to vacate the restraining order, upholding the county’s mandate.

The temporary restraining order against Abbott’s executive order is only in effect until Monday, when a local district judge will determine whether the local governments can continue mandating masks.

Abbott and Paxton will likely now appeal to the Texas Supreme Court.

“There are still some long days ahead, but I’m encouraged that the law continues to be on the side of students, teachers and public health,” San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said in a tweet on Friday.

City Attorney Andy Segovia released the following statement after the ruling:

“We are pleased with the result of the Fourth Court’s ruling. The mask mandate is time sensitive and every day we have to fight the pandemic is another day we are able to keep our community safe. We look forward to the Monday temporary injunction hearing.”

On Tuesday, Bexar County scored a court victory when 57th Civil District Court Judge Toni Arteaga granted the order, which prevented the enforcement of Abbott’s latest executive order that barred local governments from imposing any coronavirus-related mandates.

Hours after the temporary court victory, Metro Health issued a health directive requiring masks be worn in public schools in Bexar County and San Antonio.

Lawyers for the governor and attorney general argued that the restraining order “will have shattered” the state’s ability to “carry out an orderly, cohesive, and uniform response to the COVID-19 pandemic.” The governor has broad authority through the Texas Disaster Act, according to the brief, which he has relied on to issue executive orders throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

The attorney general’s office also took issue with the county’s argument that they have a right to impose a mask mandate under the Texas Health and Safety code.

Those codes say “nothing of whether the Governor, in times of emergency, may suspend that authority or whether the health and safety of Texans statewide is ‘state business.’”

Arteaga’s Tuesday ruling was the first court loss for Abbott’s ban on coronavirus mandates, which have been challenged across the state in recent days.

Like other major cities in Texas, San Antonio has seen a surge in coronavirus cases as students — many of whom are too young to be vaccinated — are returning to school for in-person instruction.

As of Thursday, Bexar County’s 7-day average of new coronavirus cases stood at 1,322. Hospitalizations have also soared to 1,267. By comparison, an average of 140 patients were hospitalized with the virus in early July.

City officials also said that resources have been spread so thin that ambulances were unavailable to respond to emergencies for 26 minutes.

Several school districts have said they will openly defy Abbott’s ban on mask mandates and more court challenges are expected.

About the Author:

Fares Sabawi has been a journalist in San Antonio for four years. He has covered several topics, but specializes in crime, courts, open records and data visualization.