Texas AG says decision to open schools lies with districts, not local health authorities

Accordingly, TEA revises its guidance to districts on funding for the 2020-21 school year

Talk 1370 Newsroom
July 28, 2020 - 12:26 pm
School desk

AUSTIN (Talk1370.com) -- Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton weighed in on the decision to re-open pubilc and private schools this fall, saying the decision lies with schools and not local health authorities.

Paxton's guidance, which is non-binding, was issued in the form of a letter to Stephenville Mayor Doug Svien.

In the letter, Paxton says that "nothing in the law gives health authorities the power to indiscriminately close schools - public or private - as these local orders claim to do."

"Education of our children is an essential Texas value and there is no current statewide order prohibiting any school from opening," Paxton said. "While local health authorities may possess some authority to close schools in limited circumstances, they may not issue blanket orders closing all schools on a purely preventative basis. That decision rightfully remains with school system leaders."

Tuesday afternoon, the Texas Education Agency revised its guidance to districts based on the letter. "Consequently, a blanket order closing schools does not constitute a legally issued closure order for purposes of funding solely remote instruction as described in this document," the agency wrote in a frequently asked questions document.

Travis County interim health authority Dr. Mark Escott issued an order that prohibits schools from offering in-person classes before September 8. Similar orders have been issued in many of the state's largest jurisdictions, as Texas has fought a recent resurgence of COVID-19.

Paxton went on to say that "while playing an important role in protecting the health of school children and employees, local health authorities may not issue sweeping orders closing schools for the sole purpose of preventing future COVID-19 infections."

It's the second time Paxton has weighed in on shcools re-opening against the coronavirus pandemic. Tuesday's letter follows another one earlier this month targeted at the state's religious schools, citing protections granted by the First Amendment and Texas law that leaves the decision in the hands of the schools, not local health authorities.

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