Texas AG Ken Paxton: Only school officials can decide to keep schools closed, not health authorities

State News

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to add part of the new guidance for school districts across the state.

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton says that local health authorities can make some rules as schools reopen, but that they don’t have the power to keep schools closed.

In a statement on Tuesday, Paxton issued guidance for the 2020-21 school year, which has led districts statewide with many decisions about when and how to open during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Paxton’s office states that health authorities can address specifics about outbreak of diseases, but that doesn’t include, in his opinion, closing schools for the sole purpose of preventing future infections.

That decision, Paxton says, lies with school officials only.

“Education of our children is an essential Texas value and there is no current statewide order prohibiting any school from opening,” Paxton said. “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.”

The Texas Education Agency issued guidance for school reopening on July 17, which included a four-week virtual learning transition period with the option of an additional four weeks if approved by the district’s school board.

Earlier this month, Paxton issued an open letter to religious private schools, saying that local health orders that try to restrict their re-openings violate U.S. and Texas constitutions and the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Paxton said:

“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.”

Additionaly, due to this ruling, school districts will not receive funding for days where they go remote-only instruction.

The letter says local health authority can make some rules to address outbreak of diseases, but cannot issue a blanket orders, closing all schools.

Paxton says that decision lies with schools officials only.

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