TARRANT COUNTY, Texas — Fort Worth schools won't be able to require face coverings, at least for the remainder of this semester, an appellate court ruled Monday.
The Second Court of Appeals of Texas, based in Fort Worth, has put in place a temporary injunction preventing the school district from requiring face masks while a group of parents battle it out with district officials in a trial now set to start in January.
Until that trial goes to court, the district can not require face masks, the appellate court ruled.
That temporary injunction in effect has granted parents' appeal to keep Fort Worth ISD from mandating masks inside its facilities.
Jason Smith is a Fort Worth ISD parent. He’s also a civil lawyer. Smith said he received an email from the court this morning, informing him of its decision to prohibit school districts from implementing mask mandates.
“It made me scared and angry as a parent,” he said. “I filed an intervention in support of Fort Worth ISD’s mask requirement and really presented the arguments that Governor Abbott is not a king or a dictator under Texas law and that school districts still have the power to protect kids from COVID by requiring masks.”
The ruling is the latest in a back-and-forth legal battle between parents against mask mandates and school districts concerned about student and staff safety.
The group of parents had originally who filed suit against the school district in the 141st District Court to prevent the mask requirement. That court sided with the group of parents, imposing the original injunction until the case could go to trial in January.
The district appealed that decision, however, which allowed them to lift the injunction while the appeal was reviewed.
Now, though, this latest ruling will restrict the district from imposing a mandate until the case can go to trial on Jan. 17, 2022.
Fort Worth ISD parent Melissa Millikan agreed with the court's latest decision. She said her family contracted COVID-19 last year, and told WFAA she believes parents should be able to decide whether or not their kids should wear masks in schools.
“I do believe at this point, this is a - like Governor Abbott has said - a personal responsibility,” Millikan said. “Parents should be taking on that responsibility as parents, caring for their kid as parents, and watching out for their health. I do not think this is an issue to be taken up by a school board or a superintendent for that matter.”
In the court's ruling, it says in part that the "Defendant [the district] shall not deny any student or parent access to Fort Worth Independent School District facilities based on a face covering, nor act in derogation of any right enjoyed by a person wearing a face covering."
The school district was also a part of a suit in Travis County that challenged the governor's ban on mask mandates. As of now, the decision in that suit was favorable to school districts.
The ruling also said Monday the court has the power to grant the relief requested by the group of parents due to Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 29.3.
This procedure says in part, “When an appeal from an interlocutory order is perfected, the appellate court may make any temporary orders necessary to preserve the parties’ rights until disposition of the appeal and may require appropriate security.”
Before this ruling, the school district announced it would once again begin requiring masks indoors for all staff, parents, students and visitors starting Monday, absent a medical exemption.
The ruling said that Gov. Greg Abbott's "authority to make face-covering decisions" is the "status quo." Going against the governor's ruling and mandating masks would "alter that status quo," which is why the court put this injunction in place.
In a statement, Fort Worth ISD said, “The District and the Board stand firm in strongly encouraging all students and employees to wear a mask while inside any Fort Worth ISD school or facility.”
There were 22 new COVID-19 deaths in Tarrant County Monday, according to Tarrant County Public Health.
There have now been 4,018 COVID-19 deaths since tracking began in March 2020.
As of Monday, there are currently 1,190 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Tarrant County. That's down from 1,200 the previous day.
The county has had more than 1,100 hospitalizations for 12 straight days. The county's current 14-day average is 1,167.
COVID-19 patients currently make up 26% of the total hospital bed capacity.
Health officials also reported 2,599 new COVID-19 cases Monday. There have been 326,414 total cases in the county since tracking began in March 2020.