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Texas Supreme Court Temporarily Blocks Mask Mandate For San Antonio Schools

A Sam Houston High School student gets their temperature checked.
SAISD Communications
A Sam Houston High School student has their temperature checked.

This post has been updated.

The Texas Supreme court has sided with Gov. Greg Abbott in a temporary emergency order in preventing San Antonio and Bexar County from enforcing a mask mandate in schools and certain public buildings.

The order from the all-Republican Texas Supreme Court said the San Antonio case and similar lawsuits are not about whether masks should be worn or if governments should mandate them but who has the authority to do so. The court said that power lies with the governor at least while this and other face mask lawsuits are decided in state appeals courts.

In its order, Texas Supreme Court wrote: “The status quo, for many months, has been gubernatorial oversight of such decisions at both the state and local levels. That status quo should remain in place while the court of appeals, and potentially this Court, examine the parties’ merits arguments to determine whether plaintiffs have demonstrated a probable right to the relief sought.”

The decision on the governor’s emergency relief request comes about a week after Texas’ 4th Court of Appeals sided with San Antonio and Bexar County in allowing their mandates to continue. A district judge in Bexar County had granted the city and county a temporary injunction.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxon said Thursday’s decision was a win for the state.

“The Texas Supreme Court has sided with the law, and the decision to enforce mask mandates lies with the governor’s legislatively-granted authority,” Attorney General Paxton said. “Mask mandates across our state are illegal, and judges must abide by the law. Further non-compliance will result in more lawsuits.”

The decision isn’t the last say on the matter as many other pending mask cases are in state appeals courts or have yet to be heard by the high court.

It also doesn’t appear to have swayed enforcement against school districts that do require mask mandates.

Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales said guidance from the Texas Education Agency issued on Aug. 19 implied that mask mandates by school districts could go forward due to the ongoing litigation.

At this time, my office will defer to this guidance issued by TEA, and no prosecutions of school district officials within my jurisdiction as Bexar County District Attorney will occur as a result of those issuing mask mandates. I understand that this litigation has been confusing for public officials, administrators and, most importantly, the public,” Gonzales said.

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said he hopes local schools will continue to require masks.

“Confusion is the enemy of emergency response and the governor is excelling at it,” Nirenberg said. “Mask up, get vaccinated, protect yourself and those around you, it’s as simple as that.”

Northside and Harlandale Independent School Districts have released statements saying they will keep their mask mandates in place. North East ISD officials said their mandate will also remain in place, but they cannot enforce it.

The high court’s order is not the final decision on mask mandates - others are expected to reach the court. There is also a pending federal lawsuit filed.

With additional reporting by Camille Phillips.

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Joey Palacios can be reached atJoey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules