Texas School District's Vaccine Mandate for Teachers Survives Attack by AG Ken Paxton

A Texas school district requiring employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine will not have to revoke its mandate despite efforts from the state's legal team, a judge ruled.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton had been working to secure a temporary injunction that would prohibit the San Antonio Independent School District (ISD) from enforcing vaccine mandates, but 45th Civil District Court Judge Mary Lou Alvarez denied the motion Friday after a two-hour hearing.

The state's legal team said they plan to appeal the ruling, with a trial set for January 19, 2022.

Alvarez's ruling comes after Paxton launched a lawsuit against the San Antonio ISD for issuing a vaccine mandate on August 16 that required all staff to be fully vaccinated by October 15.

As of Thursday, about 90 percent of staff have been vaccinated according to board president Christina Martinez.

Gov. Greg Abbott initially banned vaccine passports and mask requirements in schools in April.

Shortly after the district's announcement, he signed a new executive order that banned government agencies and businesses that partner with the state from requiring COVID-19 vaccines, regardless of their FDA approval status.

San Antonio ISD was the first Texas school district to mandate the vaccine for staff. Former superintendent Pedro Martinez justified the order citing the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission which states employers can make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory.

The district allowed exemptions for qualifying disabilities or religious reasons. Students and staff are also required to wear masks at the school.

exas Attorney General Ken Paxton Announces Lawsuit
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks to reporters at a news conference outside the Supreme Court on Capitol Hill on June 9, 2016, in Washington, D.C. A Texas school district requiring employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine will not have the mandate removed despite efforts from the state's legal team. Gabriella Demczuk/Getty Images

Deputy Attorney General Aaron Reitz said the district is on its own with the mandate and argued that regardless of policy disagreements, the school district must follow state law.

"San Antonio Independent is the only political subdivision among thousands to look at (the executive order) and say, 'Oh, this says no vaccine mandates, we don't care, impose the vaccine mandate anyway,'" Reitz said. "No one else had made this mistake."

Attorneys for the district argue that the state hasn't sufficiently proven that vaccine mandates are beyond the school's power.

They added that under the Texas Disaster Act of 1975, which gives power to the governor during emergencies like the pandemic, Abbott's executive order has no authority.

"We are sitting in an injunction hearing that the AG is hoping to win so he can spin off another press release on how proud he is that he beat up on this district," said attorney Steve Chiscano, who's representing the district. "It is so obvious and so clear that this is happening that I believe at the end of the day, you'll see that what the governor is doing is not supported by any law."

He also argued that the district was protecting its staff and 47,000 students by mandating the COVID vaccine so that they can continue attending in-person school safely.

"The school district is following the guidance of science that says the No. 1 tool in a district's toolbox to combat a pandemic is a vaccine, and that will get us back to the orderly conduct of the district," Chiscano added.

Alvarez said that the state made "eloquent, passionate arguments," but did not provide the necessary evidence for her to grant the temporary injunction.

To all of the employees at San Antonio ISD who have decided not to get a COVID-19 vaccine at this time: We are fighting for your rights, and we fully expect the courts to stop the district’s unlawful mandate. https://t.co/JI1z1gPIOa

— Texas Attorney General (@TXAG) September 29, 2021

Paxton, who did not appear in court Friday, issued a tweet Wednesday in support of the state.

"To all of the employees in San Antonio ISD who have decided not to get a COVID-19 vaccine: We are fighting for your rights, & we fully expect the courts to stop the district's unlawful mandate," the Texas Attorney General tweeted.

This is the second time that San Antonio ISD has been sued over its vaccine mandate by Paxton. The first time was in August but the lawsuit was dropped once the Pfizer vaccine was approved by the FDA. The second was filed in early September, according to The San Antonio Report.