A hearing set for Wednesday in the state's fight against Longview ISD's mask mandate could be delayed.
Instead, Vincent Dulweber, who presides over Gregg County Court at Law No. 2, could hold a hearing to determine if the Texas attorney general has the authority to bring the lawsuit. In the alternative, all the issues the court has been asked to consider could be rescheduled for a later date.
Longview ISD issued a mask mandate for its campuses effective Aug. 23 as the number of COVID-19 cases in students and staff began to rise after school began. As of Tuesday, the district reported 52 active cases in students and staff, with a total of 502 cases since the start of the school year.
The Texas Attorney General’s Office filed suit against the district in September, seeking a temporary restraining order and temporary injunction against Longview ISD until a trial can be held. The attorney general's office argued that Gov. Greg Abbott had issued an executive order that bars school districts from issuing mask requirements. The suit is one of a number of similar ones the attorney general's office filed against multiple school districts it said were defying the governor's order.
A Zoom hearing on whether the district would be temporarily prohibited from enforcing the mask mandate was set for 1:30 p.m. Wednesday. However, after the school district challenged the attorney general's authority to file the original lawsuit, Dulweber sent a letter to attorneys on both sides Monday that left the state to make a decision about what might happen Wednesday, according to court filings.
"Defendants have filed a motion to show authority, and set the hearing for (Oct. 13)," Dulweber's letter says. "Plaintiff has objected to the setting of the Motion to Show Authority due to the failure to provide 10 days notice of the hearing. The court is going to address the Motion to Show Authority before addressing the remaining pending matters in this case. Plaintiff has the following option. 1) waive the 10 days notice of the hearing on the Motion to Show Authority as to the October 13, 2021, Hearing or 2) enforce the 10 days notice and all matters will be moved to a new date to afford proper notice to the plaintiff.
"If necessary, this Court will work with both parties to reset this matter for hearing promptly."
It wasn't clear Tuesday if any decisions had been made.
In recent Gregg County court filings, Longview ISD's attorneys argued that the Texas Attorney General's Office should have combined this case with one filed against multiple districts in Travis County, where Austin is located, and says courts should consider whether those types of cases should be joined together.
The school district also challenges the Texas AG's authority to have filed the lawsuit.
"The Attorney General's statutory authority to represent the state of Texas is limited to actions before the Texas Supreme Court and the courts of appeals..." the district's filing says and cites state law. ”There is no corresponding authority permitting the Attorney General to institute actions on behalf of the state of Texas in district court. Instead, the Texas Constitution expressly mandates that 'County Attorneys shall represent the State in all cases in the District and inferior courts in their respective counties' ..."
The school district's attorneys asked for Wednesday's hearing to be reset because the state indicated it did not want to take up the issue of the attorney general's authority Wednesday as the district's attorneys requested, court filings show.