‘They really left us defenseless’: Local school administrators talk mask mandates, lawsuits

Texas Politics

LONGVIEW, Texas (KETK) – Local school administrators are speaking out after being sued by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton for their district-wide mask mandates.

Longview, Lufkin, Paris and Diboll ISDs are listed among the districts being sued for their mask mandates.

“They really left us defenseless,” Lufkin ISD superintendent Lynn Torres said. “And sometimes, like it or not, it’s up to the public and it’s up to you as a school leader to put the safety of the students first.”

Paxton argues that schools with mask mandates are in violation of GA-38– Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order that no governmental entity can require anyone to wear face coverings.

Abbott said that local government or officials that try to impose a mask mandate can be subject to a fine of up to $1,000.

Longview ISD’s mask mandate started Aug. 23, Diboll’s began on Sept. 1 and Lufkin’s started Sept. 7.

“It’s not a political philosophy or anything like that. It is strictly for the health and safety of our students,” Longview ISD superintendent James Wilcox said.

The Office of the AG previously sent letters threatening legal action, later tweeting that lawsuits would be coming for schools that didn’t drop their mask mandates.

According to Wilcox, the mask mandate is about more than wearing a mask– it’s about keeping students on track for graduation.

“The data that we received here in Longview from the Texas Education Agency is that last year’s missed face-to-face instruction time caused about a seven-month delay in learning, or a ‘COVID slide’, as it’s been called,” Wilcox said. “Well, that will be extremely hard to make up.”

On Tuesday, Paxton announced that a Lamar County district court issued a temporary restraining order against Paris ISD’s mask mandate. The court said the district “is prohibited from enforcing a facemask mandate for as long as GA-38 (or a future executive order containing the same prohibitions) remain in effect.”

“Even if it’s voluntary, it does work,” lawyer for Paris ISD Dennis Eichelbum said. “It’s not a political issue, it’s a health issue. We encourage everyone to continue to look out for their neighbor and wear a mask at school.”

Chapel Hill and Edgewood ISDs also have mask mandates. The AG’s office sent letters to them, but no lawsuits have been filed as of this writing.

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