The Texas Supreme Court sided with Gov. Greg Abbott and his executive order banning mask mandates in schools Sunday night and temporarily blocked two counties from imposing their own mask orders—part of a slew of litigation now playing out in five states over their state-level bans against school mask mandates. Here’s where the lawsuits stand now:
The Texas Supreme Court blocked previous lower court rulings that allowed Dallas and San Antonio to issue school mask mandates, despite the state order banning them from doing so—at least temporarily, while the lawsuits move forward.
Several other Texas school districts that filed separate litigation—including all of Travis and Harris counties, plus eight other school districts—are now allowed to issue their own mask mandates, after a district court judge granted temporary restraining orders that override Abbott’s order as it applies to those districts on Friday.
Another Texas court struck down on Friday Fort Worth’s mask mandate that was issued in defiance of the state, after parents sued to block the mask order, while other lawsuits taking aim at Texas’ school mask mandate ban are still pending.
In Florida, a hearing was held in one parent-led lawsuit on Friday but a ruling hasn’t been issued yet—the court will consider the state’s request to dismiss the lawsuit, and then another hearing could take place Thursday if it isn’t thrown out—while two other lawsuits against the state’s school mask mandate ban remain pending.
A state court in Arkansas has blocked the state’s mask mandate ban after both parents and schools sued to strike it down while the litigation moves forward.
Additional lawsuits have been filed aiming to strike down school mask mandate bans in Oklahoma and Arizona, and both those lawsuits remain pending, but a judge in a separate Arizona lawsuit in Arizona that tried to strike down a Phoenix school district’s mask mandate ruled the mask mandate was legal because the state’s ban doesn’t officially take effect until September 29.
What To Watch For
Two other states that have school mask mandate bans—South Carolina and Iowa—could also soon have legal action over their mask order bans. South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson has threatened to sue the city of Columbia over their mask mandate, but no litigation has yet been filed. In Iowa, parents have suggested they could bring a lawsuit against the state aiming to strike down its school mask mandate ban, with one parent in Council Bluffs telling 6 News a group of parents are “looking at trying to see if there’s anything we can leverage that came out of Arkansas.” Utah also has a ban on school mask mandates, but so far no litigation has yet been threatened or filed. As more courts rule on the school mask mandate bans, it is also not entirely clear how schools themselves will respond to the rulings. The Dallas Independent School District said it will continue to impose a mask mandate despite the Texas Supreme Court’s temporary ruling, for instance, with the school superintendent saying Sunday the district will retain its mask mandate “until there’s an official order of the court that applies to the Dallas Independent School District.”
State-level bans on school mask mandates have become an increasing matter of controversy as school years start up amid a new Covid-19 surge, which has left students under age 12 who aren’t yet eligible for vaccination particularly vulnerable. A number of school districts in a majority of the seven states with mask mandate bans now in effect have defied the state by imposing their own mask orders, despite facing potential consequences for doing so. In addition to the lawsuits filed against some school districts over their mask orders, state leadership in Florida and South Carolina have threatened to pull funding from school districts that enact mask mandates, and Texas’ executive order is punishable by a $1,000 fine against jurisdictions or officials that violate the mask mandate ban. The Biden administration has stepped in to support schools that have imposed mask orders in violation of state rules, with Education Secretary Miguel Cardona writing in letters to Florida and Texas leadership Friday that schools can use federal funding to replace any state aid that gets revoked or to enact mask policies.
Texas Supreme Court blocks lower-court rulings that allowed mask mandates (Austin American-Statesman)
Oklahoma Becomes 4th State Facing Local Challenge To School Mask Mandate Ban (Forbes)
More Schools Defying State Governments To Impose Mask Mandates — Here’s What Could Happen Next (Forbes)
Arkansas Judge Blocks State From Banning Mask Mandates For Schools (Forbes)