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Paxton overrides county health orders on schools

So much concern for the children here.

Best mugshot ever

Local health officials do not have the authority to shut down all schools in their vicinity while COVID-19 cases rise, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in nonbinding guidance Tuesday that contradicts what the Texas Education Agency has told school officials.

Shortly after Paxton’s announcement, the Texas Education Agency updated its guidance to say it will not fund school districts that keep classrooms closed because of a local health mandate, citing the attorney general’s letter. Districts can receive state funding if they obtain TEA’s permission to stay closed, as allowed for up to eight weeks with some restrictions.

The change represents an about-face for the agency, which previously said it would fund districts that remained closed under a mandate. It will impact schools in at least 16 local authorities, many in the most populous counties, that have issued school closure mandates in the past month.

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, whose county is among those with a mandate to close schools, said local officials will continue to make decisions to keep students safe “regardless of what opinion General Paxton comes up with.”

“The only way that it would really screw things up is if Abbott tried to take away the control from the local groups,” Jenkins said.

The guidance is non-binding, but local health authorities could face lawsuits especially now that Paxton has weighed in. Paxton’s office declined to comment on whether it would sue local health officials that don’t retract mandates, saying it could not comment on hypothetical or potential litigation.


The governor’s executive order allowing all school districts to operate overrules local mandates to close, Paxton said. Local health officials have some authority to order schools closed if people in it are infected by COVID-19, but not as a preventive measure.

See here and here for the background. I don’t know what happens next – maybe the counties fold and rescind their orders, maybe someone files a lawsuit to force the issue, maybe we wait and see what happens when schools are supposed to start in a non-pandemic world – but it is clear that one person could end the confusion. The head of the TEA is hand-picked by Greg Abbott, after all, and one presumes Mike Morath would not have let the TEA issue that directive if Abbott was not aware of it. Plus, as noted in the story, Abbott’s own executive order is part of the reason the counties don’t have this authority, at least according to Ken Paxton. So we just need Greg Abbott to come forward and clarify things and

Gov. Greg Abbott’s office did not respond to a request to clarify this earlier this month.

Yeah. You know, whoever runs against Abbott in 2022, they need to make a video montage of all of the “Abbott did not respond to a request for comment” lines in every damn story about coronavirus. If there’s a single defining trait of his reign of error, that’s it. Reform Austin has more.

UPDATE: This says a lot:

Truly, we have a weak and feckless Governor.

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  1. Andrew Lynch says:

    I’m looking straight at Lina Hidalgo on authority overreach. “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”

  2. C.L. says:

    I don’t know, Andrew. Lina appears to be genuinely concerned with the health of the citizens of Harris County and looks/is looking to put policies in place to ensure that health on a long term basis. Greg and Ken, on the other hand, seem to have little concern about the health of the folks in the entire State.

    My money’s on Lina.

  3. brad says:


    “Authority overreach”?! Good one.

    A county judge is the duly executive for the county citizen’s and the buck stops with her for public health and safety, not the school district.

    Paxton’s wishy-washy ‘guidance’ is purely for catering to his political base.

  4. Manny says:

    Well the Republicans want to open schools after all, “Hispanics and elderly” are the one dying.

    People like Andrew, Paxton, Patrick, … all seem to have no problem with people dying or getting sick, especially if the minorities or elderly.

    “Vance Ginn, the chief economist for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, is facing fierce backlash for a recent racist tweet that said schools should open since most of the people dying from the coronavirus in Texas are elderly or Hispanic.”

  5. […] mine, and see here for the background. The Chron’s Jacob Carpenter tries to make sense of this […]

  6. […] here and here for the background. Basically, we don’t know anything today that we didn’t […]

  7. […] here, here, and here for the background. This too is one person’s opinion, in this case a law […]