FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – The legal opinion that had schools reconsidering educational restarts yet again, wasn’t prompted by a question from a district, or an elected official from a major city putting pressure on state leaders to step in.
It came from a rural North Texas mayor, who was just trying to be prepared.
“I wasn’t thinking outside of Stephenville, Texas,” Mayor Doug Svien said Wednesday. “That was my entire intent. Our community. How do we get prepared in case something occurs? Who has what authority?”
The eventual opinion on that, from the office of attorney general Ken Paxton, had school districts around the state, either reversing plans to start the school year virtually, or requesting counsel from their own attorneys on their next move.
The opinion limited the ability of local health authorities to pre-emptively keep school districts from opening campuses to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Mayor Svien said he respected the health authority in his city, but didn’t understand how an order from a city contract employee, could potentially override the decision of an elected body like the school board.
“I kept thinking how could our unelected official make a decision for people who are outside of the city,” Svien said. “And that was really the genesis of the question, does he have that kind of authority?”
Mayor Svien sent an email to Paxton’s office Friday morning.
Later that day he spent more than an hour on the phone with someone there talking through the issue.
He received a call Tuesday telling him what the opinion was, and that it would be sent out across the state, but he didn’t expect the resulting impact from the answer.
Svien said he would have been fine with whatever the answer was, but believed the opinion was correct.
“If all the school districts got together with the local health authority, and they made a decision for the entire county, well then the school board’s involved with that and I wouldn’t have a problem with that,” he said.