Texas Attorney General: Religious private schools can open in the fall regardless of local health orders

Education

AUSTIN (KXAN) — On Friday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued an open letter to religious private schools in the state, informing them that local public health orders trying to restrict their re-openings violate the United States and Texas Constitutions and the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

“As the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed just last week, there are robust constitutional and statutory protections unique to religious individuals and communities, specifically including religious private schools. In accordance with the protections granted by the First Amendment and Texas law, this guidance allows religious private schools to determine for themselves when to reopen free from any government mandate or interference.”

– Texas Attorney General Paxton

Earlier this week, Austin Public Health Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott told Travis County Commissioners that Austin area schools, public and private, should not start until Sept. 8, unless they can offer online-only classes.

VIEW: Order of control measures for in-person school campus instruction in Travis County

Texas Attorney General Paxton says those local orders are inconsistent with Governor Greg Abbott’s executive orders, making them invalid for private schools.

KXAN reached out to more than 30 private schools around Central Texas on Friday. Some of those schools are offering a hybrid model, while others are only offering virtual learning until September. Many school leaders did not want to comment as they are still working on plans for fall instruction.

Covenant Community Schools in Round Rock is closely monitoring local and state health orders, but school leaders say they will start in-person classes on August 26, with an option to join remotely. Currently, the City of Round Rock and Williamson County have not issued any directives about in-person learning for schools.

“Fall instruction is pretty much as normal. We do a blend of person to person learning. Individualized instruction is paramount especially in the lower grades,” said William Wright, head of schools at Covenant Community Schools.

Last school year, the school had about 50 students enrolled, but Wright says that number might change as other area private schools are choosing virtual learning only.

“We’ve had a number of local inquiries from other schools that are not doing in-person instruction, and some of those families will probably be joining us. I’m anticipating the campus being full,” Wright said.

Wright explains they will operate within capacity, with no more than 14 people in a classroom. Each classroom will have COVID-19 safety protocols in place. Students are required to wash their hands often, and parents are not allowed in the building.

Parts of the school is open during the summer for childcare and summer camp. The school says it has not had any cases of COVID-19.

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