Yesterday Attorney General Paxton secured a ruling against imposing mask mandates on Texas children in violation of state law. In a win for Texas families and the rule of law, the New Orleans-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit vacated a lower court’s injunction on Texas’s statewide mask-mandate ban and ordered the court to dismiss the underlying lawsuit.
In July 2021, Governor Abbott published Executive Order No. GA-38. Among other things, the Order prohibits governmental entities—including public school districts—from imposing mask mandates: “No governmental entity, including a . . . school district . . . and no governmental official may require any person to wear a face covering or to mandate that another person wear a face covering.” The Order expressly provided that it “shall supersede any face-covering requirement imposed by any local governmental entity or official.”
Many school districts revolted against the Executive Order and imposed mask requirements anyway. In response, Attorney General Paxton sent letters to these districts to ensure they understood their responsibilities under the law and to threaten legal action for further violations. Later, Attorney General Paxton sued over a dozen rogue school districts for their refusal to comply with GA-38.
Meanwhile, a group of students sued the State of Texas over GA-38, saying that it violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and the American Rescue Plan Act. The federal judge sided with the plaintiffs against the State and concluded that GA-38 violates and is preempted by these statutes. The judge also enjoined Attorney General Paxton from enforcing or giving any effect to GA-38. As a result, many school districts re-imposed mask mandates on children in school for the 2021–2022 school year.
Attorney General Paxton appealed the district court’s order and, yesterday, the Fifth Circuit issued an opinion reversing the lower court’s order. The appeals court agreed with Paxton and concluded that the district court lacked jurisdiction, vacated the injunction barring the State from enforcing GA-38, and ordered the lower court to dismiss the suit.
“The audacity of rogue superintendents across Texas openly violating state law last year was alarming. These are the community leaders that are supposed to be models for our youth to look up to, but instead they became political activists and abandoned their duties as educators,” Attorney General Paxton said. “It is long past time for Texas educators to put aside their political agendas and focus on the crucial task of educating our Texas children.”