School children wear facemasks while talking at a sculpture garden in the Museum District in Houston, Texas

In May, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order “prohibiting governmental entities in Texas—including counties, cities, school districts, public health authorities, or government officials—from requiring or mandating mask wearing.” In particular, Abbott came down on school districts trying to protect children and teachers by requiring masks by saying that “After June 4, no student, teacher, parent, or other staff member or visitor can be required to wear a mask while on campus.”

From that point forward, schools were trapped in a situation where they could either defy Abbott, and face prosecution by gleefully zealous state Attorney General Ken Paxton, or put their students at risk by placing them in schools they knew to be unsafe. Paxton warned schools that Texas would “vigorously fight” any school district that defied Abbott’s order and threatened districts with fines for non-compliance. But as the school year approached, multiple school districts determined that having Abbott and Paxton angry at them was better than having children in the ICU, So, as WFAA in Dallas reported last week, the number of districts willing to thumb their nose at Abbott’s order began to grow swiftly. 

Just days after classes began, the Associated Press reported that four school districts in Texas were forced to close when large numbers of students and staff members fell ill. That same day, Abbott himself tested positive for COVID-19 after he was seen glad-handing without a mask at multiple Republican events. Abbott sent messages to reassure the state that he was doing well, but the knowledge that the governor was getting deluxe care that included a booster shot and a dose of monoclonal antibodies didn’t exactly endear him to the parents of kids who aren’t eligible for either treatment.

On Thursday, the Tyler Morning Telegraph reported that Paxton had sent a letter of warning to schools that he said “have unlawfully imposed mask mandates.” By that point, it was a long, long list. It included districts like Paris, which hoped to find away around Abbott’s unsafety rules by making masks part of the school district’s dress code. And it included several districts like El Paso which, as Spectrum News reports, had already made it clear they were prepared to sue the governor to protect their kids under their care.

Then on Thursday evening, with dozens of school districts and almost as many courts lined up against them, Team Evil folded. Abbott didn’t withdraw his executive order, but for now at least, the state will no longer attempt to enforce his counter-sensible command. 





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