Texas attorney general Ken Paxton sues Sherman school districts over mask mandates; SISd responds

Chuck Lindell
Austin American-Statesman

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced late Friday afternoon that he had filed lawsuits against six school districts, including Sherman, to overturn mask mandates for students, teachers and staff.

Paxton argued that Gov. Greg Abbott's executive order banning mandatory masks — issued July 29 under the governor's emergency powers during a declared disaster over the pandemic — has the force and effect of state law.

More:Which Austin-area schools are requiring masks? Check your child's district here

School districts violate the order at their own risk, Paxton said, promising additional lawsuits if dozens of other school districts continue to require face masks as a pandemic safety measure.

Locally, Sherman Independent School District officials said they are aware of the announcement by the attorney general's office, but the district has yet to receive any additional information regarding the litigation.

"Once additional information has been received by the disrict, it will evaluate the pending litigation at that time," SISD Superintendent David Hicks said Friday in a statement.

"The district has and will continue to focus on promoting a safe and healthy learning environment for our students and staff, to include keeping its schools open and accessible for instruction as well as extracurricular activities," he continued.

At least 85 districts across Texas, however, are requiring face coverings to be worn indoors, heeding advice from public health officials who say universal masking limits the spread of coronavirus-laced respiratory droplets, particularly in such locations as schools where crowding can be hard to avoid.

A state judge in Williamson County is temporarily barring the Round Rock school district from enforcing its mask mandate.

In addition, children under age 12 are not yet eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccination, which health officials say offers the greatest protection from severe illness due to the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus. 

The Round Rock school district is following the advice of public health officials in Williamson and Travis counties, "who advise us that masks remain an essential tool in stemming the spread of COVID-19 in our classrooms," said Jenny LaCoste-Caputo, district spokeswoman.

"Coupled with vaccines for those eligible, masks and face coverings are helping us keep our schools open for the face-to-face learning our students so critically need," LaCoste-Caputo said.

Paxton also is defending Abbott's ban on mask mandates in cases before, or heading toward, the Texas Supreme Court. The Austin district is among several dozen school districts, cities and counties seeking court orders blocking Abbott's ban from being enforced.

The Texas Education Agency, which oversees the public education system, recently told schools that the mask provisions of Abbott's executive order are not being enforced while that litigation proceeds.

"Further guidance will be made available after the court issues are resolved," the agency said in guidance sent to schools Sept. 2.

Paxton, however, said districts that impose mask requirements are "openly violating state law."

"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 said in a statement announcing the lawsuits.

In addition to Sherman ISD, Paxton also sued the Richardson, Galveston, Spring and two Central Texas districts.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton