AUSTIN (KXAN) — A group of parents and their children gathered outside Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s mansion in downtown Austin Monday morning to protest his executive order that doesn’t allow school districts to impose mask mandates.
The rally, sponsored by Austin Voices for Education and Youth and Austin Education, urged Gov. Abbott to allow local control in regards to mask mandates.
The Texas Supreme Court issued a stay Sunday that temporarily blocked mask mandates in Dallas and Bexar counties that includes school districts, but that ruling doesn’t affect the current Austin Independent School District mask mandate. At least, not yet.
After the ruling, the Texas Attorney General’s office released a statement on Twitter — “Let this ruling serve as a reminder to all ISDs and Local officials that the Governor’s order stands.”
Parisa Fatehi, an Austin ISD parent, said she will “seriously consider” switching her daughter to virtual learning if the district ends up not being able to enforce a mask mandate.
“In some ways, it’s deja vu because we’re scared again. But now it feels like we’re angry too, because we have a tool in our toolbox that’s actually not being used and we’re being told we can’t use it,” she said.
Abbott has long said that personal responsibility should be the driver for mask-wearing, not government mandates. He said his order doesn’t ban mask-wearing, and those that want to wear one can, even in schools.
Fatehi said the back and forth between the state, courts and schools over mask mandates has been difficult to keep up with.
“I happen to be a lawyer and so I understand some of it in a way but even for me, it’s confusing to be able to explain to friends,” she said.
Travis County Judge Andy Brown was at Monday’s rally, and said he believes the governor’s executive order is overreach.
“I don’t think Texas law supports his actions,” Brown said. “I think that the whole point of the governor and county judges, like myself being able to enter orders in times of emergency and disaster and pandemics like we’re going through, is to help save lives and to help stem the spread of the pandemic.”
However, state Attorney General Ken Paxton has asserted that the executive order is well within the governor’s authority.
Benjamin Dower, the deputy division chief for the AG’s office, argued the same in a Travis County lawsuit hearing on Friday.
“Schools have inherent authority to control their environments, but that inherent authority is not exclusive and it is not unlimited. It is limited by state law which would include this executive order,” he said.