HAYS COUNTY, Texas — Hays County Judge Ruben Becerra issued a mask mandate for Hays County schools on Friday night, joining a growing list of localities and school districts defying Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order against requiring masks.
The mask requirements will go into effect starting midnight on Sunday, Becerra said.
“We are experiencing a health crisis emergency with rising hospitalizations and limited bed space,” Becerra said in a statement. “I am concerned about the health and safety of our children and our hardworking faculty and staff members in our ISDs and hospitals. This order is intended to slow down community spread of the COVID-19 virus and free up hospital space. Personal responsibility, undefined, as a disaster response strategy for an infectious disease pandemic is not working.”
The county judge said the highly contagious delta variant, a spike in hospital admissions and the fact children under the age of 12 are not yet eligible for the vaccine led to his decision to issue the order.
The Centers for Disease Control recommends schools maintain masking rules for the fall.
Abbott and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton are fighting back against mask rules issued for the upcoming school year, including orders from Austin ISD and Travis County, asking the courts to strike down the local orders.
“The path forward relies on personal responsibility – not government mandates,” Abbott said.
Earlier this week, Abbott and Paxton filed a mandamus petition in the Fifth Court of Appeals to strike down the ruling of Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, who ruled local leaders could require masks.
A Travis County judge on Friday, Aug. 13, granted a temporary restraining order against the governor’s executive order, allowing local mask mandates to proceed for now.
Meanwhile, an appeals court in San Antonio rejected Abbott’s appeal to stop a Bexar County public school mask mandate. An appeals court in Dallas also sided with local orders requiring masks.
Abbott and Paxton will likely appeal the decisions before bringing it to the Texas Supreme Court.
“This isn’t the first time we have dealt with activist characters. It’s deja vu all over again,” Paxton said. “Attention-grabbing judges and mayors have defied executive orders before, when the pandemic first started, and the courts ruled on our side – the law. I’m confident the outcomes to any suits will side with liberty and individual choice, not mandates and government overreach.”
On Friday, the U.S. Department of Education sent a letter backing local school districts that issue mask mandates.
Then, on Monday, the Hays County Sheriff's Office announced it would continue following the governor's order:
"Given the uncertain and ever-changing circumstances surrounding COVID-19, the issuance of some local orders regarding masks, and the start of the K-12 school year, several questions have arisen from citizens regarding the enforcement of local orders by the Hays County Sheriff’s Office.
"Foremost, I respect and honor Governor Abbott’s decisions and determinations in urging members of the public to exercise individual responsibility to help combat the spread of COVID-19. In addition, I firmly believe the administrative decisions regarding the safeguards for our K-12 students in Hays County best lies with the school districts and their respective school boards. I have no doubt the difficult decisions those school districts make are inevitably done with the best interests of our children in mind.
"The Hays County Sheriff’s Office will continue to follow Governor Abbott’s orders, as they currently exist, while Texas courts navigate the various legal aspects of any conflicting orders by other officials/local governments. Therefore, the Hays County Sheriff’s Office will not enforce any order from any political subdivision that contradicts Governor Abbott’s existing order. My office will stay updated on any further decisions stemming from the Governor and/or the Supreme Court of Texas and will adapt accordingly."
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