A lawsuit filed by the Texas attorney general against Longview ISD adds to a growing battle over local control and mask mandates.
The lawsuit was filed Monday afternoon and will be heard in the courtroom of Gregg County Court at Law No. 2 Judge Vincent Dulweber. The attorney general’s office is seeking a temporary restraining order and temporary injunction against Longview ISD until a trial can be held on the matter.
Longview ISD implemented a requirement for people to wear masks on its campuses effective Aug. 23 as the number of COVID-19 cases in students and staff began to rise after school began. As of Wednesday, the district reported 169 active cases in students and staff. Longview High School has the most cases at 45, followed by 24 at the East Texas Montessori Prep Academy and 22 at Foster Middle School.
The attorney general’s office has been taking legal action against school districts and other governmental organizations that have issued mask mandates across the state, with the attorney general’s website showing it’s involved in action against more than a dozen entities.
The lawsuit states the Texas Disaster Act of 1975 makes the governor “the leader of the state’s emergency response” and gives the governor “vast powers to meet this obligation,” including the ability to make executive orders that carry the full force of law.
It then references the executive order the governor issued July 29, saying it “protects individual autonomy in making personal health decisions” and “seeks to create a uniform response to the COVID-19 pandemic.” The order, among other steps, “bans most state and local officials from mandating the wearing of facemasks.”
“To ensure individual autonomy and promote uniformity, (the executive order) supersedes conflicting local emergency orders....” the lawsuit states. “Importantly, under (the executive order) any person who wants to wear a facemask, get a vaccine or engage in social distancing can still do so. (The executive order) ‘strongly encourages ‘ such practices. But (the executive order) leaves individuals free to follow the safe practices they should have already mastered over the last 18 months.”
The lawsuit goes on to detail recent court rulings in similar cases that say mask mandates such as Longview ISD’s should be suspended “to maintain the status quo” of the governor having control over “disaster related decisions” until the courts make final decisions on the issue.
The nonprofit organization Disability Rights Texas, which describes itself as a group mandated by federal law to protect the legal rights of people with disabilities, filed a brief with the court arguing against the state. It has taken similar actions in other cases.
“There is a previously filed, and pending, federal lawsuit, brought by students with disabilities alleging that (the executive order) violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and is preempted by American Rescue Plan Act of 2021,” the brief the nonprofit filed states. “Second, the governor, the Texas Attorney General and the Texas Education Agency have represented in federal court that they do not, and cannot, enforce (the executive order)....
“Recognizing that (the executive order) is preempted by federal law, the court should allow local officials to make evidence-based decisions tailored to the needs of their constituents — including the medically fragile children with disabilities ..”