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Texas AG Says Health Authorities Can’t Close Schools During Pandemic

Local health authorities can make that call when responding to immediate outbreaks and quarantine needs, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in his letter. But they can’t issue blanket orders keeping schools closed simply as a preventive measure, he said.

by Eva-Marie Ayala and Corbett Smith, The Dallas Morning News / July 29, 2020
AP
(TNS) -  Public health authorities delaying in-person classes can’t do so indiscriminately to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks they fear will happen at a future date, the Texas attorney general said in a guidance letter issued Tuesday.
 
Local health authorities can make that call when responding to immediate outbreaks and quarantine needs, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in his letter. But they can’t issue blanket orders keeping schools closed simply as a preventative measure, he said.
 
“The decision to close schools on such a preventative basis — whether public or private — remains with school system leaders who should consult with relevant public health authorities, including the department and local health authorities,” he concludes.
 
Health authorities across the state have issued orders prohibiting in-person classes as they try to stop the spread of the new coronavirus. Dallas County health officials have prohibited in-person classes until at least Sept. 8. Tarrant County officials issued a similar order that delays on-campus lessons for most students until Sept. 28.
 
Some parents and private schools have pushed back at the orders. On Monday, dozens of families protested outside of Tarrant County’s administration building while County Judge Glen Whitely met with parents to discuss their concerns.
 
Some parents from private schools indicated that their campus leaders weren’t able to give input on the order delaying in-person classes.
 
Paxton’s letter notes that nothing in existing orders from the governor related to COVID-19 would prohibit any school from opening.
 
“Indeed, the opposite is true,” Paxton writes. “Religious services, such as those provided by religious private schools, and local government operations, such as public schools, are permitted to open and are excluded from any capacity restrictions.”
 
He added that schools are required to follow guidance from the Texas Education Agency in order to open properly.
 
Paxton issued the letter in response to a request from guidance by Stephenville Mayor Doug Svien. The letter comes less than 10 days after similarly aimed guidance to private religious schools, saying that they “need not comply” with county health orders because such schools were an extension of churches, which were protected from closure under Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive orders.
 
Earlier this month, TEA issued guidance to schools on reopening campuses and noted that public schools would not be at risk of losing state funding -- which is largely based on student attendance -- if local public health officials closed schools because of COVID-19 concerns and those schools made virtual learning available.
 
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