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Texas Supreme Court Temporarily Halts Mask Rulings, But Travis County's Mask Mandate Is Still In Effect

A group of Austin ISD families, students, teachers and school staff advocate for mask mandates on Aug. 9. Later that day, the district implemented a mask requirement.
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT
A group of Austin ISD families, students, teachers and school staff advocate for mask mandates on Aug. 9. Later that day, the district implemented a mask requirement.

The Texas Supreme Court is temporarily blocking rulings from two lower courts in Dallas and San Antonio that gave local officials cover to defy Gov. Greg Abbott's order that outlawed mask mandates.

The mask mandate in Travis County is still in effect, according to Travis County Judge Andy Brown.

“Until we end up in litigation directly with the governor, we’re going to keep our requirement that public schools require masks,” Brown told KUT.

Austin City Council Member Greg Casar also says the decision doesn't block local masking requirements.

“Tomorrow, kids must wear masks in Austin and Travis County public schools — helping keep them safe," Casar said in a press release. "No matter what the courts ultimately say, we should mask up because it's the right thing to do. This is about keeping our kids in school and out of the hospital.”

The Supreme Court, which is made up entirely of Republicans, granted Abbott’s request for a temporary stay on Sunday, halting lower court decisions in Bexar and Dallas counties that allowed local officials to require masks.

Local mask mandates have cropped up in counties and school districts across Texas in the last week, as school is set to begin soon and the delta variant is spurring a rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. The mandates go against a July order from Abbott that prohibits local government officials and school districts from issuing such requirements.

But lower courts so far have sided with local officials. On Friday, the 4th Court of Appeals in San Antonio upheld a ruling allowing Bexar County to require masks in public schools. That same day, the 5th Court of Appeals in Dallas upheld an order in Dallas County requiring masks in public schools, universities and businesses.

Those lower court decisions gave local governments legal cover to defy Abbott’s ban on mask mandates. Now, that legal cover is gone. The Supreme Court’s move doesn’t necessarily strike down the local mask mandates, but it does open up local officials again to challenges from the state.

Hearings in the lower courts will still continue. A hearing in the Bexar County case is scheduled for Monday, and a hearing in the Dallas County case is scheduled for Aug. 24.

Brown says Travis County is following a decision that came Friday from Travis County District Court Judge Jan Soifer. Soifer granted a temporary restraining order against Abbott’s order, allowing local mask mandates to stay in place.

“We are still following District Judge Soifer’s order of Friday which gives my order as the county judge effect,” Brown said. “And schools in Travis County are still required to require masks for all public school students and all public schools that are physically located within Travis County.”

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