NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) — One day after sending a letter saying that health authorities can’t issue ‘blanket orders’ closing schools because of the COVID-19 pandemic, on Wednesday Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton released a statement clarifying that there is no statewide shutdown order in effect.
In the legally nonbinding letter sent Tuesday Paxton said, “While local health authorities may possess some authority to close schools in limited circumstances, they may not issue blanket orders closing all schools on a purely preventative basis. That decision rightfully remains with school system leaders.”
In the Wednesday statement Paxton said, “While we all recognize the need for diligence, caution, and preparation ahead of the upcoming school year, only the elected local school authorities have the broad power to delay the start of the school year. Unelected local health officials only have limited authority to shut down schools, and many local health authorities across Texas have exceeded their legal authority in delaying in-person education.”
Both Tarrant and Dallas County health officials have issued orders delaying in-person education. After the release of the initial letter Tarrant County Public Health Director Vinny Taneja said, “We’re very disappointed that the health authority order was sort of overruled. This is a person-to-person illness. You put more people together, you’re going to have a problem.”
Paxton’s Wednesday statement said extending school closings and virtual learning ‘carry significant social and economic costs for parents, students, and educators.’
When asked about resting the decision to reopen campuses on the shoulders of local school leaders Dr. Philip Huang, the director of Dallas County Health and Human Services, said, “I think it confuses people. It confuses us.”
Paxton claims that he and his staff are working with local officials to ‘assure a safe, welcoming, and positive environment for all of our Texas students as we move towards normalization of our schools, our economy, and our lives.’
The Texas Education Agency reversed course after Paxton sent the first letter, announcing that the state won’t fund schools that remain closed under local public health mandates. But districts can receive state funding if they get permission from the TEA to stay closed, as allowed for up to eight weeks with some restrictions.