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Texas AG says only school officials, not health authority, can order closures to prevent virus

AUSTIN, Texas -- In an advisory opinion issued Tuesday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said only local school districts - and not the local health authorities - can order school closings due to the potential for coronavirus outbreaks.

"While playing an important role in protecting the health of school children and employees, local health authorities may not issue sweeping orders closing schools for the sole purpose of preventing future Covid-19 infections," he wrote.

Paxton continued, "Rather, their role is limited by statute to addressing specific, actual outbreaks of disease. School officials, both public and private, are the appropriate ones to decide whether, when, and how to open school."

In his analysis, Paxton cites orders issued by a number of local Heath Authorities across Texas, including El Paso, that he believes overstep the powers granted to them by state lawmakers.

El Paso City/County Health Authority Dr. Hector Ocaranza has directed that schools in El Paso County not reopen classrooms until after Labor Day. There was no immediate response from Dr. Ocaranza as to whether the AG's opinion would result in him changing his directive.

While the attorney general is Texas' chief law enforcement officer and is often called upon to give the state's official view of a law or regulation, these interpretations are not legally binding.

The Texas Supreme Court has ruled on a number of occasions that "Attorney General's opinions are not, of course, binding on the courts." However, as the Texas A&M Law School observes, AG's opinions "are highly persuasive and are generally considered to be authoritative."

Shortly after Paxton's guidance was issued Tuesday, the Texas Education Agency reversed course and announced that the state would no longer fund schools that remain closed under a local public health mandate.

Gov. Greg Abbott, who toured parts of south Texas hit by Hurricane Hanna, didn’t address Paxton’s guidance directly when speaking with reporters in Corpus Christi. But he said school opening decisions are best left to local education officials with input from health authorities.

“We have a duty to ensure we do not lose a generation of students because of this pandemic,” Abbott said. “We have an obligation to step up and make sure they are educated about reading, arithmetic, and things like that, but also they are educated in how to respond to challenges that may come their way in life. Pediatricians all recommend the best learning environment for a child is going to be in the classroom.”

The Texas State Teachers Association sharply criticized Paxton.

“We trust health experts, not the attorney general, when children’s lives are at stake,” the group said in a statement.

The request for the Paxton's opinion was made by the mayor in Stephensville, which is located about 90 miles southwest of Dallas-Fort Worth. You can read Paxton's entire response below.

(The Associated Press and the Texas Tribune contributed to this report.)

Coronavirus / Health / News / Texas / Texas Politics / Top Stories / Video

Jim Parker

Jim Parker is the Director of Digital Content for ABC-7.

Comments

18 Comments

  1. Schools are going to remain closed except for online classes for most of the year or until we have a proven vaccine. Makes no difference who orders it. Officials will do exactly what parents and teachers tell them to do.

    1. What a moron. Parents want their kids back in school. The teachers and the teachers’ unions do not. Get your facts straight. You don’t have any kids and don’t pay any school property taxes so moot with you.

      1. I have numerous employees with kids. None of them want their kids in school. In fact I don’t know of any parents that I’ve spoken to that are going to let their kids go to school other than online classes.

  2. More Republican rigamarole. Holding my breath, literally for the per usual judicial system to step up and have the final say concerning COVID-19.

  3. Two closet cowards, comrade turner and always backwards talking their demoKKKrat narrative even if it kills children chance in life. Typical bastards not happy being Americans but yet here they are. The flu kills more children in a month than the COVID has ever done. The cure is here but the demoKKKrat controlled media wants to hide it. But I’m confident that Americans see thru the deciet of the racist left.

    1. Nadodouche, spare me the hypocrisy. All of you self-righteous Trumptards are hellbent on cutting funds for social services that many Texas children need to survive, i.e. Medicaid/Chip and food stamps. But, you think you have the God-given right to tell a woman that she must have a child that she knows she can’t afford or take care of.

    2. The COVID19 pandemic will be over on November 4 after President Trump gets reelected. Then the Democraps will be complaining about the electoral college like back in 2016.

    1. I wish they would, but we both know that ain’t happening. Preparation and equipment for the coming online classes will be very expensive and they have to cover that expense.

    1. Section 8 recipients don’t pay property taxes but their landlords do. I have several rental properties that I’ve placed into the Section 8 program and I’ve had no problems whatever.

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