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COVID-19

Amid Legal Confusion, Austin-Travis County's Mask Order Can Continue

Izzy Mithoff-Pérez, Kevin King, Alex Mithoff-Pérez and Levi King join a gathering of Austin ISD students and parents Monday outside the governor's mansion to protest bans on mask mandates.
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT
Izzy Mithoff-Pérez, Kevin King, Alex Mithoff-Pérez and Levi King join a gathering of Austin ISD students and parents Monday outside the governor's mansion to protest bans on mask mandates.

The Texas Supreme Court has denied a request from Attorney General Ken Paxton to include other counties — including Travis — in its ruling Sunday that temporarily halted mask mandates in Dallas and Bexar counties.

Paxton sought a blanket ruling from the state's high court to include in the case challenges from Harris County, a coalition of South Texas school districts and parents in Travis County. Although the request was denied, the attorney general can file similar individual requests with the court.

The smattering of lawsuits challenging Gov. Greg Abbott's ban on requiring masks in schools has left parents and school districts in a state of confusion as in-person classes start across the state.

The Texas Supreme Court on Sunday temporarily blocked lower court rulings that allowed mask mandates in Dallas and Bexar counties. The court's order prohibits the counties from instituting mandates while their lawsuits against the governor proceed.

A state district court ruled Monday, however, that Bexar County can continue requiring masks while its case is litigated. Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, meanwhile, amended his mask mandate to remove any fines. He contended that kept the mandate in line with the ruling.

Furthering the confusion is a slew of challenges currently before a Travis County district court. Harris County, the nonprofit Southern Center for Child Advocacy (SCCA) and eight school districts in South Texas are all suing over the governor's order. Travis County parents with children in Pflugerville, Manor and Eanes ISDs joined that lawsuit to force the districts to enforce a local requirement for masking.

Attorney Mike Siegel, who represents the Travis County families, told KUT the Texas Supreme Court's rejection of Paxton's request means the Austin-Travis County mask requirement can continue for now. He said the attorney general will likely challenge the cases individually.

"The legal battle in state courts is going to go on for, probably, for a couple more weeks," he said. "And that's important, because these next two weeks mean a lot, in terms of the pandemic and stopping the spread of COVID-19."

The legal whack-a-mole comes as COVID-related hospitalizations in Texas are at their highest, while ICU bed capacity is at its lowest. Some parents fear the lack of a vaccine for children under 12 could lead to a further spike in cases.

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