Richardson, Round Rock, Galveston, Elgin, Spring, and Sherman Independent School Districts are being targeted in the lawsuits, Paxton’s office announced. The office said it “anticipates the filing of additional lawsuits if school districts and other governmental entities continue to defy state law.”
It is not immediately clear why Paxton chose the six school districts out of the 85 school districts and six counties in Texas that have defied the order.
His office has shared a list of school districts and local governments that have been “non-compliant.” The list also points out which districts have been issued a letter warning of legal action, and which districts are under active litigation.
Paxton said in a post on Twitter, “Today, I filed suit against 6 Texas [Independent School Districts] and this is just the beginning. I will put an end to these unconstitutional mask mandates.”
In a separate statement, Paxton said, “Not only are superintendents across Texas openly violating state law, but they are using district resources—that ought to be used for teacher merit raises or other educational benefits—to defend their unlawful political maneuvering.
“If districts choose to spend their money on legal fees, they must do so knowing that my office is ready and willing to litigate these cases. I have full confidence that the courts will side with the law—not acts of political defiance,” he added.
Round Rock Independent School District said in a statement via The Texas Tribune, “We do work closely with both our local health authorities in Williamson and Travis counties who advise us that masks remain an essential tool in stemming the spread of COVID-19 in our classrooms.”
Meanwhile, officials from Spring Independent School District told the outlet that they learned about the lawsuit from the release from Paxton’s office, and haven’t seen the lawsuit. They told the outlet, “Spring ISD will let the legal process unfold and allow the courts to decide the merits of the case.”
The Texas Education Agency (TEA), which oversees pre-K through Grade 12 public education in the state, released new COVID-19 guidance (pdf) on Aug. 5 saying that school systems “cannot require students or staff to wear a mask,” citing Abbott’s order on masks.
However, the agency also noted on its website that it “does not have the general authority to close schools for matters related to health.”
The Biden administration announced on Thursday that federal financial support can be made available for school districts that defy their state governments’ orders in implementing mask mandates. The financial support would come via a new grant program called Project SAFE (Supporting America’s Families and Educators).
In August, the Texas Supreme Court ruled in favor of Abbott and overrode lower court rulings that allowed Dallas and Bexar counties to implement local mask mandates. Later that month, the court temporarily blocked Bexar County from implementing mask mandates in schools.
On the same day, the Department of Education under the Biden administration informed Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran in a letter that there will be a “directed investigation” into whether the mask mandate ban is “preventing school districts in the state from considering or meeting the needs of students with disabilities.”
The investigation “will focus on whether, in light of this policy, students with disabilities who are at heightened risk for severe illness from COVID-19 are prevented from safely returning to in-person education, in violation of Federal law,” according to the letter.