Texas AG Paxton sues San Antonio school system over employee vaccine mandate

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The complaint seeks a temporary restraining order against school district for violating an executive order issued by Gov. Greg Abbott.

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Updated: August 20, 2021 – 10:47pm

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is suing the San Antonio Independent School District and Superintendent Pedro Martinez for issuing a vaccine mandate for all employees as a condition of employment.

The complaint asks the court to grant a temporary restraining order against San Antonio ISD for violating an executive order issued by Gov. Greg Abbott, which prohibits governmental entities and officials from mandating Emergency Use Authorization drugs, which are by federal law defined as voluntary. The order, Paxton argues, “has the force and effect of state law and preempts local rules and regulations.”

“Executive Order GA-38 clearly states that government entities in Texas cannot impose mandates for vaccines with only an emergency use authorization,” Paxton said in a statement. “The Texas Legislature gave the Governor the authority to create and enforce executive orders during a statewide emergency – not a hodgepodge of county judges, city mayors or superintendents. If other governmental entities continue to blatantly disregard state law, I will sue every single one of them.”

The San Antonio Independent School District is reportedly the first school district in Texas to issue a vaccine mandate for all employees.

Martinez sent an ultimatum to staff in a letter on Monday requiring all staff to receive both COVID-19 shots by Oct. 15 as a condition of employment.

“We strongly believe that the best path forward as a school district is to require all staff to become vaccinated against COVID-19. And the timing is now,” Martinez wrote. “This is a profound moment where we can choose to lead by example.”

The superintendent said 90% of employees have already received both doses. He also sent a letter to parents on Monday stating the district’s policy to implement a mask mandate, “effective immediately.”

Abbott has repeatedly said that vaccines are strictly voluntary in the state of Texas, never forced. He also signed SB 968 into law prohibiting businesses that receive state funds from implementing vaccination requirements.

Martinez issued the mandate on the same day a Bexar County judge ruled that local officials could require mask mandates in schools, defying Abbott’s executive order. San Antonio-based Fourth Court of Appeals granted the requests of Bexar County and San Antonio Thursday, allowing them to enforce mask mandates in public schools. Paxton’s office has already appealed the case.

The attorney general also has put school districts on notice saying it “will pursue additional legal sanctions” against those who continued to remain in noncompliance with the order.

In a letter addressed to Abbott this week, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel A. Cardona wrote, “Texas’s recent actions to block school districts from voluntarily adopting science-based strategies for preventing the spread of COVID-19 that are aligned with the guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention puts these goals at risk and may infringe upon a school district’s authority to adopt policies to protect students and educators as they develop their safe return to in-person instruction plans required by Federal law.”

The governor’s office has not issued a public statement in response to Cardona. Of the numerous lawsuits challenging his order, he has expressed confidence that the Texas Supreme Court will rule in his favor, arguing that his executive orders are legal.

The Biden administration this week said it will not “stand by” while governors like Abbott try to “block and intimidate” local mask mandates, threatening to take “legal action if appropriate.”

However, Paxton’s office has said it will vigorously defend Texas’ sovereignty against federal government overreach and Texas has sued the Biden administration more than any other state this year.

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