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Texas Supreme Court ruling against San Antonio won’t impact El Paso mask mandates for now

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The Texas Supreme Court on Thursday struck down — at least temporarily — San Antonio’s mask mandate for school districts and government buildings.

The high court ruling has no impact on El Paso because the county is not a party to the governor’s lawsuit against San Antonio and Bexar County. That means for now, El Paso City-County Health Authority Dr. Hector Ocaranza’s indoor mask mandate remains in place.

El Paso’s largest districts will continue to comply with Ocaranza’s mandate and require students, teachers, staff and campus visitors to wear a face covering, spokespeople for the El Paso, Socorro and Ysleta independent school districts said Thursday in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling.

“The board’s directive remains in place,” EPISD spokesperson Melissa Martinez said, referring to an Aug. 17 decision by the school board to require face masks.

One El Paso school board member quickly took to Facebook to incorrectly tell parents the ruling applied to the entire state, citing a press release from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office. He later deleted the post.

The patchwork of local challenges to Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order banning local mask mandates has created confusion as lower courts allow some local mask orders to stand. On Wednesday, a state district court judge ruled that Dallas County’s mask mandate could stand — an order the state attorney general is expected to appeal.

El Paso’s mask mandate also faces a legal challenge.

El Paso County Court-at-Law No. 7 Judge Ruben Morales ruled in favor of the city of El Paso’s request for a temporary restraining order against the governor’s mask mandate ban on Aug. 17. That paved the way for El Paso’s “universal indoor face covering” requirement for those age 2 and older to go into effect on Aug. 18.

Paxton has appealed Morales’ ruling. The Texas 8th Court of Appeals has yet to rule on the attorney general’s appeal, according to city spokesperson Laura Cruz-Acosta.

“The order issued by the Texas Supreme Court does not affect the validity of the order issued by El Paso City-County Health Authority Dr. Hector Ocaranza,” Cruz-Acosta said in a statement. “The local mask mandate is still in effect in El Paso County.”

Morales will decide whether to extend the temporary restraining order at an Aug. 31 hearing.

Cover photo: Students at Don Haskins PK-8 School change classes on the first day of the 2021-22 school year. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

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Molly Smith and Danielle Prokop

Molly Smith reports on K-12 education for El Paso Matters; Danielle Prokop reports on the environment and climate change for El Paso Matters.

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