The governor of Texas can ban mask mandates, at least for now, after the State Supreme Court sided with the state on Sunday, granting a request for an emergency stay of an appellate court ruling that would have allowed schools to make face coverings mandatory.
The decision is temporary, lasting only until the State Supreme Court, whose justices are elected and are currently all Republicans, makes a final ruling. The Dallas Independent School District and San Antonio Independent School District each said on Monday that they would continue to require masks for now, despite the ruling.
“The City of San Antonio and Bexar County’s response to the Texas Supreme Court continues to emphasize that the governor cannot use his emergency powers to suspend laws that provide local entities the needed flexibility to act in an emergency,” Andy Segovia, San Antonio’s city attorney, said in a statement on Sunday. “His suspension authority is meant to facilitate action, not prohibit it.”
Michael Hinojosa, the superintendent of the Dallas district, held a news conference after the State Supreme Court ruling was announced on Sunday night, and said that after consulting with lawyers, he planned to continue the district’s mask mandate — but that that could change, depending on the shifting legal situation.
“Until there’s an official order of the court that applies to the Dallas Independent School District, we will continue to have the mask mandate,” Mr. Hinojosa said.
He added, “we will comply when the court order applies to us.”
The escalating battle comes as schools around the country open, or prepare to do so, with tens of millions of children under 12 ineligible for vaccination. Hospitalizations of young people have been increasing as the highly transmissible Delta variant of the virus has spread.
Some Republicans have cast mask rules as an infringement on parental rights, while many Democrats hold that they are a matter of public health.
Late on Friday, after Gov. Greg Abbott’s ban suffered at least three legal setbacks, the state attorney general, Ken Paxton, said he was taking the issue to the State Supreme Court. The setbacks were in areas with Democratic leaders, rampant coronavirus cases and rising hospitalizations.
Vaccinations in Texas lag behind those of many other states, and coronavirus deaths are rising, though far more slowly than in prior waves, given that a majority of the state’s oldest and most vulnerable residents are now vaccinated.
A state district judge gave Harris County, which includes Houston, and several school districts across the state temporary permission to implement safety measures, including mask mandates.
In San Antonio, the state’s Fourth Court of Appeals denied Mr. Abbott’s challenge to an earlier ruling upholding a school mask mandate for Bexar County.
Shortly after the San Antonio court issued its ruling, the Fifth Court of Appeals in Dallas denied Mr. Abbott’s challenge to a county official’s mask mandate for public schools, universities and businesses.
The official who issued that order, Clay Jenkins, praised the ruling. “We should all be together; Team Human v Virus,” he wrote on Twitter. “I’ll keep following the doctor’s advise and work with anyone to beat #COVID19.”
On Sunday evening, after the State Supreme Court’s decision, Judge Jenkins wrote on Twitter that the court had “narrowly ruled.” “We won’t stop working with parents, doctors, schools,” he continued, “to protect you and intend to win that hearing.”