Paxton in Texoma: AG voices optimism about mask lawsuit against SISD, other Texas school districts

Michael Hutchins
Herald Democrat
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks at Red River Cowboy Church during a Texoma Patriots meeting Monday.

On Friday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed six lawsuits, including one against Sherman Independent School District, after the school districts in the state imposed mask mandates in defiance of an executive order from Gov. Greg Abbott this summer.

While on a previously planned trip to North Texas this week, Paxton said he is confident that Texas courts will find in favor of the state following a wave of lawsuits against school districts that are requiring students and teachers to wear masks on campuses.

"Hopefully the outcome is that the school district will start following state law and individual parents and children will have a choice about whether they wear a mask or not. It will be up to them," Paxton said during a visit to Denison Monday.

Paxton was a guest speaker for a meeting of the Texoma Patriots, a conservative political group founded in Van Alstyne.

In August, the Sherman School Board of Trustees voted five to one to require masks be worn on district campuses following a spike in cases of COVID-19 and the Delta Variant in the region. District officials said the decision was based on cases of the virus.

In early September, the district received a letter from the Attorney General's Office requesting the district comply with the governor's mandate which bars municipalities from imposing mask requirements.

"That's not the way they are supposed to operate," Paxton said. "They do not get to decide state law, and they are supposed to follow state law. So, the job that the attorney general's office, whether I like the law or not, ... my job is to enforce the law."

"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.

Friday, 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 district, it will evaluate the pending litigation at that time," SISD Superintendent David Hicks said Friday in a statement.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton poses for a photo with attendees at a Texoma Patriots meeting on Sept. 13.

Sherman voters will ultimately finance both sides of the legal dispute as local property taxes will likely be used in the district's defense while state taxes will go toward Texas' representation.

"I would say it would save a lot of money if local school districts, instead of using litigation, would just follow the law," Paxton said Monday. "This is not a complicated issue. It is black and white. The law says they can't do it and the local school board has decided that isn't a concern to us. We are going to spend the money to go against state law, which they are very unlikely to win."

While the state has filed six lawsuits, dozens of districts are still requiring that masks be worn on campus. Monday Paxton confirmed additional lawsuits are likely in the near future for the districts in noncompliance. Still, Paxton thinks the resolution of the first cases may be enough to resolve the situation.

"However, ultimately the goal is to get to the Texas Supreme Court," Paxton said. "One side will probably appeal it, and once we get that decision from the Texas Supreme Court, that will apply to all districts."

While the case itself may take some time to resolve, Paxton said injunctions related to it are likely going to be issued in the near future.

In other matters, Paxton said Texas is likely to respond to a presidential mandate issued by Pres. Joe Biden related to vaccinations against COVID-19. Last week, Biden issued a mandate that would require government employees, government contractors and employees of companies with 100 or more employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine or be tested weekly.

However, Paxton said it may be too early for the state of Texas to weigh in on the issue, citing questions on any OSHA rules that pertain to the mandate. If the rule stands as the president has outlined, Paxton said Texas would likely not be alone in challenging the mandate.

"It would be premature be don't know for sure if there is a rule," Paxton said. "We certainly don't know what the rule says. It is hard to say for sure exactly what we are going to do.