Judge Grants Restraining Order Against Abbott's School Mask Mandate Ban

by Christina Marfice
Montinique Monroe/Getty

Some of the largest school districts in Texas were defying Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order banning mask mandates in schools and now, a judge has approved a temporary restraining order allowing mandates

COVID cases are surging in almost every part of the United States, but the “third wave,” fueled by low vaccination rates and the highly contagious delta variant, is especially bad in the South. Texas is one state that’s seeing a particularly devastating surge — yet the state’s governor, Greg Abbott, wasn’t backing down from the executive order he signed in the spring banning mask mandates in counties, cities, and schools. Thankfully, a Texas judge has just issued a restraining order preventing the enforcement of the ban — and allowing schools to mandate masks.

Some Texas school districts were openly defying the governor’s order, announcing that masks will be required for students and staff. Then, Bexar County Civil District Court Judge Toni Arteaga made their ruling in a case brought by the city of San Antonio and Bexar county. “I don’t do this lightly,” she said. “And those under 12 of course, as you know, don’t have access to the vaccine, and they’re already in school.”

“So I do find that this is emergent, I do find that it is necessary,” she says.

Before the judge approved the restraining order, mask mandates had been announced for school districts in some large Texas cities including Dallas, Austin, and Fort Worth.

Abbott’s office had responded to the school districts that were defying his order, saying on Tuesday, “Parents and guardians have the right to decide whether their child will wear a mask or not, just as with any other decision in their child’s life. We are all working to protect Texas children and those most vulnerable among us, but violating the Governor’s executive orders—and violating parental rights—is not the way to do it.”

Abbott’s statement felt like a slap in the face, considering how many kids are becoming sick with the delta variant nationwide. In North Texas, only 2 percent of pediatric ICU beds are currently available — the rest are full. There’s not a lot of official data yet on whether the delta variant makes kids sicker than previous variants of the virus, but doctors are sharing plenty of anecdotal evidence that seems to point in that direction.

As he refuses to back down from his statewide ban on mask mandates, Abbott did just announce a new executive order for the state: That hospitals are now being encouraged to delay surgeries so they can keep capacity open for the surge of new COVID patients. Texas has seen a 91 percent increase in cases over the last two weeks, as well as a 98 percent increase in hospitalizations, and a 101 percent increase in deaths. The 7-day average in Texas is now considerably higher than it was during last summer’s peak, and hard-hit cities like Austin are sounding the alarm that their hospitals are nearing capacity.