Attorney General Ken Paxton: Decision to close schools lies with school districts, not health officials

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton argued in a July 28 letter that only school districts have the authority to delay in-person learning. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton argued in a July 28 letter that only school districts have the authority to delay in-person learning. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton argued in a July 28 letter that only school districts have the authority to delay in-person learning. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)

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.
By Jack Flagler
Jack is the editor of Community Impact Newspaper's Central Austin and Southwest Austin editions. He began his career as a sports reporter in Massachusetts and North Carolina before moving to Austin in 2018. He grew up in Maine and graduated from Boston University, but prefers tacos al pastor to lobster rolls. You can get in touch at jflagler@communityimpact.com


MOST RECENT

Rendering of an apartment complex
Ground breaks on Capitol Quarters, Austin's first car-free multifamily housing development

Developer Weaver Buildings said the project is aimed at urban commuters who are committed to getting around wiithout cars.

Hays County opened its COVID-19 vaccine portal Jan. 22. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Vaccine portal opens in Hays County; read Austin business news and more Central Texas info

Read the latest business and community news from Central Texas.

The Austin Community College District's 28,000-square-foot culinary arts wing is now open at ACC Highland. (Courtesy Austin Community College)
Second phase of ACC Highland campus opens in Central Austin

The campus is home to the Austin Community College District's Culinary Arts Department.

Registration for Williamson County COVID-19 vaccines opened Jan. 19. (Sandra Sadek/Community Impact Newspaper)
Register for vaccine in WilCo; 24 restaurants to try in Leander, Cedar Park and more top Central Texas news

Read the most popular business and community news from the past week from the Central Texas area.

Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde said those who wish to return to campus can do so beginning Jan. 25. (Courtesy Austin ISD)
Austin ISD families can return to campus after 2 weeks of encouraging virtual learning

Austin ISD has seen a 28% decrease in weekly coronavirus cases since the first week of January.

The legality of reinstating tighter restrictions on public camping, solicitation, and sitting and lying down remains vague. (Courtesy Office of the Texas Governor)
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott floats ‘statewide camping ban’ as homeless debate heats up

The legality of reinstating tighter restrictions on public camping, solicitation, and sitting and lying down remains vague.

Teal House Coffee & Bakery’s menu includes items such as the cinnamon roll croissant. (Courtesy Teal House Coffee & Bakery)
Teal House Coffee & Bakery opening South Congress brick and mortar in Austin Jan. 30

The location will be the food truck's first brick-and-mortar restaurant.

Dr. Judith L. Thompson recently took the time to answer several general questions about the COVID-19 vaccine. (Courtesy Texas Children’s Hospital)
'We still have a long way to go': Central Texas physician answers questions about COVID-19 vaccine

Dr. Judith L. Thompson recently took the time to answer several general questions for Community Impact Newspaper related to the coronavirus vaccine, its efficacy and costs, and other related matters.

Goodwill Central Texas opened a location at 2415 S. Congress Ave., Austin, on Jan. 14. (Amy Rae Dadamo/Community Impact Newspaper)
New South Congress Goodwill now open

The new store is open for retail services and also accepts donations.

Lawmakers have returned to the Capitol. The Texas Legislature began its 2021 session Jan. 12. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
School funding once again a major focus for Austin ISD during legislative session

The district will also be watching for legislation regarding charter schools, accountability, pandemic relief and local control.