ROUND ROCK, Texas (KXAN) — A Williamson County judge heard arguments in the 425th District Court on a lawsuit filed by Attorney General Ken Paxton against Round Rock ISD over its mask mandate.
The hearing began at 1 p.m. Thursday, where Judge Betsy Figer Lambeth made it clear the case being argued is not about the science but which government official has the legal authority.
“We will agree to use this terminology: ‘This case sided with either Round Rock ISD or the State of Texas… This case and others like it are not about whether or not government should mandate masks, but which government official has the legal authority,” said Judge Lambeth.
Round Rock ISD and Elgin ISD are among six Texas school districts the attorney general is suing in regard to their mask mandates. Richardson, Galveston, Spring and Sherman ISDs are also being targeted by the Texas attorney general.
Gov. Greg Abbott issued executive order GA-38, which prohibits government entities from mandating face coverings.
Round Rock ISD argued under the Texas Education Code, the Round Rock School board would have the exclusive power and authority to govern.
“To say the board acted without authority is contrary to the text… the idea of local control over Texas schools is sacred,” said Katherine Long, Thompson & Horton attorney representing Round Rock ISD. “What we’re trying to challenge is an operational decision, a temporary mask requirement. That is not a statute, that is not an ordinance, that is an operational decision.”
The Texas Attorney General’s Office argued the Round Rock Board of Trustees did act outside of its legal authority.
“With respect to the board of trustees, we have argued they should not be part of that immunity in this unique circumstance,” said the Texas Attorney General’s Office. “We are here to consider a temporary injunction to reinsert the statute of control and bring them back inside their legal authority.”
A Williamson County district court judge previously ordered that Round Rock ISD cannot “issue or enforce” a mandate, however, a Third Court of Appeals put a hold on that order, saying the district could continue with its order for now.
Round Rock ISD does provide students the opportunity to opt out of the districts mask mandate if a student has a health and/or developmental condition.
During the hearing Thursday, the Texas Attorney General’s Office called Round Rock’s superintendent to the stand. Judge Lambeth asked Dr. Hafedh Azaiez about the opt-out forms and the form’s legal limits.
Azaiez noted official medical documentation is not needed for the forms nor are there consequences if a student does not comply.
“It sounds like you created a rule that you don’t intend on enforcing. What message does that send?” asked Judge Lambeth.
“Our main goal was compliance. We aren’t trying to punish anyone but to have high compliance,” said Azaiez.
“I have trouble with the message that it sends your students, that’s it a mandate, but we’re going to look the other way,” said Lambeth.
“We don’t look the other way. We talk to our students and try to be on the same page, so we can help mitigate the virus,” said Azaiez. “We did a survey and had about 70% of our parents who said they would send their student with a mask.”
No decision was made in the case Thursday. Another hearing is scheduled for Oct. 27 at 9 a.m.