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Texas AG threatens 3 East Texas school districts with legal action over mask mandate

Published: Sep. 13, 2021 at 3:21 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 13, 2021 at 8:01 PM CDT
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LONGVIEW, Texas (KLTV) - Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office sent an email to Longview ISD Superintendent Dr. James Wilcox, asking to rescind the mandatory wearing of masks on LISD property.

Superintendent Wilcox and the school board have read the letter from the Texas Attorney General’s legal counsel, which states in part:

“Your district recently enacted a local policy mandating that students and staff wear face masks while at school. This mandate exceeds your district’s authority as restricted by Governor Abbott’s Executive Order...”

Dr. Wilcox said the district will get legal advice.

“We will be reviewing that with our attorney to see exactly what the options are,” Dr. Wilcox said.

The letter sent via email also says:

“The Governor’s executive orders ‘have the force and effect of law’ and supersede local regulations.”

Dr. Wilcox says because of legal reasons he can’t address specific items in the letter.

“LISD is not letting politics interfere with our decisions. We are looking strictly at the best interests of our staff members and our students,” Wilcox said.

Wilcox says he and the board want to safely avoid a shut down:

“And let our students have the benefit of face-to-face instruction with our wonderful teaching staff, and that’s what our goal is,” Wilcox said.

He believes the masks will help keep the campuses open.

“We feel like it’s our duty that anything that we can do to help assure that, that we do it,” Wilcox said.

In closing the letter from the attorney general’s counsel to Dr. Wilcox states:

“I ask you to rescind your local policy requiring masks in public schools or, alternatively, not enforce it pending the Texas Supreme Court’s disposition of the cases before it involving the issue.”

“We’re really looking at what’s in the best interest of students and the faculty here in Longview. That’s all we’re really looking at,” Wilcox said.

So for now, Dr. Wilcox has not lifted the mask mandate.

Dr. Wilcox says the board is working with attorneys and the Longview School Board Association to see what the next step will be. Wilcox says he believes the email does not apply to school buses.

Longview ISD is one of 97 government entities listed as non-compliant with Executive Order GA-38 on Attorney General Ken Paxton’s website. The list includes other Texas school districts, cities and counties. Lufkin ISD and Chapel Hill ISD have also been threatened by Paxton with lawsuits over mask mandates.

Executive Order GA-38 prohibits governmental entities and officials from mandating face coverings or vaccines.

Letter from the Office of Ken Paxton Attorney General of Texas

September 3, 2021

Dear Dr. Wilcox:

Your district recently enacted a local policy mandating that students and faculty wear face masks while at school. This mandate exceeds your district’s authority as restricted by Governor Abbott’s Executive Order GA-38, which states that “no governmental entity, including a county, city, school district, and public health authority, and no governmental official may require any person to wear a face covering or to mandate that another person wear a face covering.”

The Governor’s executive orders “have the force and effect of law” and supersede local regulations. Courts have previously agreed. Moreover, the Texas Supreme Court has now issued three orders staying lower court orders seeking to enjoin the Governor from asserting his authority to preempt local face-mask mandates. Most recently, the Court stated that its stay order applies to “this case, and others like it” and that the status quo of gubernatorial oversight over the wearing of masks at both the state and local levels “should remain in place while the court of appeals, and potentially this Court, examine the parties merits arguments.”

The Texas Supreme Court has spoken. Local court orders purporting to enjoin the Governor’s authority may not be enforced while appellate courts consider the underlying merits of these cases. This office will pursue further legal action, including any available injunctive relief costs and attorney’s fees, penalties, and sanctions—including contempt of court—available at law against any local jurisdiction and its employees that persist in enforcing local mask mandates in violation of GA-38 and any applicable court order.

I ask you to rescind your local policy requiring masks in public schools or, alternatively, not enforce it pending the Texas Supreme Court’s disposition of the cases before it involving this issue. Otherwise, you face potential legal action brought by this office.

Sincerely,

Austin Kinghorn

General Counsel

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