Update: 9:00 a.m. July 29

The Texas Education Agency said July 28 it will follow the guidance laid out by Attorney General Ken Paxton and will not allow schools to close in-person instruction based solely on a blanket order from a local health authority.

That means schools could still begin the year virtually for four weeks with a potential extension for an additional four weeks while retaining state funding. However, those decisions would be subject to a vote of the local school board—not an order from a local public health authority.

"As a state agency, we will follow the Attorney General's guidance. Consequently, a blanket order closing schools does not constitute a legally issued closure order for purposes of funding solely remote instruction for an indefinite period of time," a statement from TEA Commissioner Mike Morath read.

Original story

Health authorities in Austin, Dallas, Houston and other areas across Texas have issued local orders delaying the start of in-person learning for their respective area school districts, but in a July 28 letter, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton wrote the authority to issue blanket orders to close schools on a preventive basis lies solely with school district leaders.

“Although the plain language of the law provides some authority to local health authorities to quarantine property in certain instances, that authority is limited,” Paxton wrote in the letter, which was addressed to Stephenville Mayor Doug Svien. “It does not allow health authorities to issue blanket quarantine orders that are inconsistent with the law.”

According to guidelines issued July 17 by the Texas Education Agency, Texas school districts have the option of offering online-only classes for the first four weeks of the 2020-21 school year. In major cities, such as Houston, Dallas and Austin, public health authorities took advantage of that four-week “transition window,” as TEA Commissioner Mike Morath called it, to delay on-campus instruction until at least Sept. 8.

However, Paxton argued those local decisions from health authorities conflict with orders from Gov. Greg Abbott that allow all public schools to operate following TEA guidelines and that therefore, the local orders are superseded by the those of the state.

“We encourage local and school system officials to work together to make the best decision, within their authority under the law, to protect the health and safety of the residents of their jurisdictions,” Paxton wrote.