The Spring ISD board of trustees voted to join La Joya ISD's lawsuit against Gov. Greg Abbott over his executive order barring school districts from mandating face masks at a special-called Aug. 23 board meeting.
The board unanimously approved the decision after meeting in executive session but did not comment on the matter after voting.
SISD Superintendent Rodney Watson touched on the lawsuit after the meeting.
“The decision of our board of trustees to join the lawsuit against Gov. Abbott’s ban on mask mandates demonstrates a continued commitment to the health and safety of our students and staff,” Watson said in an Aug. 24 emailed statement. “Our goal is to do everything we can to mitigate the risk and spread of COVID-19 among our students and staff so we can keep our schools open and minimize the potential for disruptions to learning and teaching.”
SISD is the latest of several school districts throughout the state that have joined the lawsuit as intervenors—or third parties entering an existing civil case that were not named as an original party but have a stake in the outcome. In addition to LJISD, plaintiffs in the lawsuit include Edinburg CISD, Hidalgo ISD, Brownsville ISD, Crowley ISD and Edcouch-Elsa ISD.
"We don't believe that the governor's executive order can limit our rights as an independent school district from implementing safety measures," SISD Board President Rhonda Newhouse said in an Aug. 25 emailed statement. "We also believe the local school boards have the right and the responsibility to make decisions based on what's best for our students, our employees and our community based on the public health conditions in our area. The highly contagious delta variant means we must use every strategy available, including universal masking, to protect our students and staff."
Initially filed Aug. 12, LJISD’s lawsuit argues Abbott does not have the authority to stop school districts from implementing mask mandates.
“The Texas Disaster Act does not delegate any authority to the governor that would allow him to issue such a prohibition,” the lawsuit reads. “Plaintiffs respectfully request the court declare that the governor’s declaration in Executive Order GA-38 that school districts cannot adopt masking requirements is ultra vires and invalid because the Texas Disaster Act conveys no such power to the governor.”
The lawsuit highlights the rising number of COVID-19-related hospitalizations in Texas, which had surpassed 13,300 as of Aug. 22, according to data provided by the Texas Department of State Health Services.
“This data is particularly troubling for school districts because Texas schoolchildren under the age of 12 cannot currently be vaccinated,” the lawsuit reads. “Based on data from the Texas Department of State Health Services, 99.5% of the COVID-19 deaths since February 2021 have been people who were unvaccinated.”
Further, the lawsuit contends because less than 50% of the Texas population is fully vaccinated, providing in-person classroom instruction without appropriate safety measures threatens the broader public.
SISD began requiring masks on all district properties Aug. 16. According to Abbott’s executive order, entities that establish such mandates are subject to a fine of up to $1,000, though the order does not specify how the penalty would be applied to school districts.