Following an order from the Texas Supreme Court that invalidated a lower court’s ruling that would have allowed local governments to issue masking rules, Dallas Independent School District (DISD) Superintendent Michael Hinojosa announced that his schools would still be requiring students and staff to wear face coverings to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
The Texas Supreme Court’s order on Sunday placed a stay on a restraining order from a lower district court, which had said an executive order from Gov. Greg Abbott (R) preventing mask mandates from being implemented could not be enforced. But after speaking with attorneys for DISD, Hinojosa said the ruling from the state’s highest court did not address school districts, only county governments that wanted to enforce mask requirements.
“The order that was issued by the Supreme Court was issued to Dallas County and it’s listed as [Dallas County District Judge] Clay Jenkins and the county. It did not say one word about DISD in that order,” Hinojosa said in a statement.
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While some may view the superintendent’s reaction to the state Supreme Court’s ruling on Sunday as playing with semantics, one legal expert said Hinojosa was absolutely right in his assessment.
“DISD is not in fact bound by the Texas Supreme Court decision, so it could go ahead and have a mask mandate for now, unless there will be litigation involving DISD,” Southern Methodist University law professor Dale Carpenter said to Fox 4 News in Dallas.
Abbott’s executive order, issued in late July, forbade any local government, including school districts, from issuing mask requirements. Abbott’s decree stated that “no person may be required by any jurisdiction to wear or to mandate the wearing of a face covering.” Jurisdictions in violation of the order can be subjected to fines of $1,000.
After Hinojosa announced he would not remove the mask rule for DISD, he received a phone call from President Joe Biden, who praised him for standing up to the governor’s order.
“The president said he was proud of us for making this opportunity available to our students,” Hinojosa said. “He thanked me for having the courage to stand up for our students and our community.”
Texas has experienced a fast resurgence of coronavirus in the past month. From July 16 to August 15, the state’s 7-day average of cases being reported jumped by more than 471 percent. The rate of hospitalizations currently seen in the state is matching levels not seen since February.
Children are filling up hospital ICU beds in ways not seen before in the state. In Dallas County itself, there appear to be zero ICU beds currently available for children due to rising rates of COVID-19, Judge Jenkins observed last week.