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Dozens Of Texas School Districts In Legal Battles Over Gov. Abbott's Ban On Mask Mandates

NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) - More than 50 Texas school districts and eight counties have adopted mask mandates in defiance of Governor Greg Abbott's executive order, including several in the Metroplex.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's office is keeping a list of them.

"It's just a bizarre period because you're seeing the clash of our legal system, our education system, our public health system," said Nathan Cortez, an SMU law professor.

The back-and-forth is confusing for families as their kids head back to school.

With multiple ongoing lawsuits filed by and against school districts, there's conflicting orders from judges across the state and the Texas Supreme Court.

"So you're going to have a lot of attorneys with a lot of eyes looking and seeing how they can get around some of these issues and orders, until ultimately the Texas Supreme Court specifically says you must adhere to or abide by under this declaration by the governor," said Eric Cedillo, an attorney and SMU law professor. "If they say the governor has the ability to stop any type of mask mandates, under the Texas Disaster Act, then I think a lot of these school districts and other local governmental agencies will adhere to what the Texas Supreme Court says, but they haven't done that yet."

Fort Worth ISD is now joining Crowley ISD and several other districts across the state in a lawsuit challenging the ban on mask mandates in schools, but the district won't be requiring them on campuses until the lawsuit works its way through the courts.

A judge in that case has granted a temporary restraining order against the governor's executive order, allowing districts to set their own mask requirements.

However, last Sunday night, August 15, the Texas Supreme Court issued a temporary order seemingly halting Dallas County's mask mandate, but it is allowing the appeals process in the lower courts to play out.

"There are different cases in different stages of litigation around the state," Cortez said.

An advocacy group for children with disabilities has filed the first federal lawsuit against the governor, saying the mask mandate ban puts them at risks.

This only escalates this legal fight, as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to rise.

"It's a situation that is continuously developing and as we see lots of more lawsuits may be filed," said Cedillo.

Other school districts are finding new ways to get around the governor's order.

Paris ISD chose to require masks as part of the district's dress code policy.

"There's a decent argument that the governor has no authority over local school dress codes, and it would be hard for Governor Abbott to justify intervening in those dress codes under the Texas disaster act so I credit them for being creative," said Cortez.

The move could pave the way for other school districts to make similar changes as the legal battles continue to play out.

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