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Local health authorities may not issue sweeping orders to close schools, Texas attorney general says

Local leaders issued orders that prevented in-person classes in Bexar County until after Labor Day.

SAN ANTONIO — Editor's note: The above video was originally published on July 24.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a legal opinion letter Tuesday that said local health authorities may not issue sweeping orders to close schools for the purpose of preventing future COVID-19 infections.

In San Antonio and Bexar County, local leaders issued a directive on July 17 that prevents in-person lessons until after Labor Day. Students in any grade from pre-K to grade 12 are included in the order. The directive also suspends all school-sponsored events and activities, including athletic competitions and extracurricular activities.

“Their role is limited by statute to addressing specific, actual outbreaks of disease,” Paxton said in the letter, in part. "School officials, both public and private, are the appropriate ones to decide whether, when, and how to open school.”

City Attorney Andy Segovia responded to Paxton's opinion, saying the goal of the county's health directive "is to minimize the risk of exposing children, parents and school staff to COVID-19."

"San Antonio continues to report hundreds of new cases of COVID-19 per day, the positivity rate remains high, the hospital system is under severe stress and pediatric cases continue to rise week over week," Segovia said. "The health directive is consistent with Governor Abbott’s March order that mandated virtual learning while the virus was just beginning to spread in Texas. All schools complied with the Governor’s March order without raising any Constitutional concerns. We will seek a speedy resolution of this matter."

Spokespersons for North East and Northside ISD said Paxton's opinion did not alter their plans to remain virtual-only to start the school year this fall.

It's not the first time the attorney general has issued guidance against local health directives. On July 17, Paxton wrote a letter to private educators, saying local public health orders stopping re-openings don't apply to them. Paxton said such orders violate the U.S. and state constitutions and the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg responded  to Paxton's July 17 guidance, saying that "if our interest is in saving lives, we should do our best to ignore our Attorney General, in general." 

On Monday, the state added 675 deaths to its count and reported 4,267 new cases, which is the lowest daily count since July 5.

Bexar County was listed in Paxton's most recent letter alongside others who have issued similar orders, including Dallas, Harris, El Paso, Hidalgo, Tarrant, and Waco-McClennan.

This is a developing story. Refresh the page for updates.

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