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Texas Supreme Court pauses mask mandate in San Antonio case, but El Paso’s is still in effect

Students wear masks in a socially-distanced school classroom.
Students wear masks in a socially-distanced school classroom.

AUSTIN, Texas -- The Texas Supreme Court temporarily blocked San Antonio’s mask mandate for public schools Thursday — the latest in the tug-of-war legal battle between local governments and the state’s Republican leadership over mandatory face coverings.

The state’s highest civil court put the mandate by officials in San Antonio and Bexar County on pause, overriding a ruling a week ago by the 4th Court of Appeals — which had cleared the way for officials to compel students, teachers, school staff and visitors at K-12 public schools to wear masks.

The appeals court upheld an earlier ruling by a lower court judge that blocked Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order banning local mask mandates and allowed local officials to reinstate a mandate that state Supreme Court justices put on hold the week before.

Abbott and the state are embroiled in multiple legal battles with cities, counties and school districts in the state’s urban areas over mask mandates.

On Wednesday, a state district judge in Dallas sided with Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins in his bid to enact his own mask mandate for public schools, colleges and businesses — in defiance of Abbott.

Soon after, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton appealed the ruling — temporarily making the mask mandate unenforceable.

The high court ruling has no impact on El Paso because the county is not a party to the governor’s lawsuit against San Antonio and Bexar County. That means for now, El Paso City-County Health Authority Dr. Hector Ocaranza’s indoor mask mandate remains in place.

El Paso’s largest districts will continue to comply with Ocaranza’s mandate and require students, teachers, staff and campus visitors to wear a face covering, spokespeople for the El Paso, Socorro and Ysleta independent school districts said Thursday in the wake of the state Supreme Court’s ruling.

However, El Paso’s mask mandate also faces a legal challenge.

El Paso County Court-at-Law No. 7 Judge Ruben Morales ruled in favor of the city of El Paso’s request for a temporary restraining order against the governor’s mask mandate ban on Aug. 17. That paved the way for El Paso’s “universal indoor face covering” requirement for those age 2 and older to go into effect on Aug. 18.

Paxton has appealed Morales’ ruling. The Texas 8th Court of Appeals has yet to rule on the state attorney general’s appeal, according to city spokesperson Laura Cruz-Acosta.

“The order issued by the Texas Supreme Court does not affect the validity of the order issued by El Paso City-County Health Authority Dr. Hector Ocaranza,” Cruz-Acosta said in a statement. “The local mask mandate is still in effect in El Paso County.”

Morales will decide whether to extend the temporary restraining order at an Aug. 31 hearing.

Article Topic Follows: Texas

Texas Tribune

El Paso Matters - Molly Smith


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