This story has been updated.
For the second time in a month, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued San Antonio Independent School District and Superintendent Pedro Martinez for requiring all staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Martinez issued a staff vaccine mandate and mask mandate Aug. 16 for everyone inside school buildings. Three days later, Paxton sued Martinez and SAISD over both mandates, stating in the lawsuit that the superintendent and the district were “deliberately violating state law,” as a July executive order from Gov. Greg Abbott prohibits any entity that receives public funds from mandating COVID-19 vaccines that had received only emergency approval from the federal government.
But the federal Food and Drug Administration granted full approval for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on Aug. 23, and the lawsuit was dropped. Two days later, Abbott issued a new executive order, banning governmental entities from requiring any COVID-19 vaccine, regardless of FDA approval status.
Paxton filed the second lawsuit against SAISD in Bexar County on Sept. 9, seeking a temporary restraining order barring the school district from mandating vaccines. In the petition, Paxton claims SAISD and Martinez are again violating state law by “flouting” the August executive order.
“The decision to openly violate state law and devote district resources to defending Superintendent Martinez’s unlawful actions is irresponsible,” Paxton said in a statement. “But if school districts decide to use their limited funding to try to get away with breaking the law, my office will oppose them and uphold the rule of law in Texas.”
SAISD is the third-largest district in the county, with about 46,000 students enrolled. More than 90% of district staff have already received the coronavirus vaccine, but the deadline for those who have not is Oct. 15.
The district said in a statement that it could not comment on pending litigation.
“We know that our safety protocols are in line with what has been mandated at the federal level for certain employers. The vaccines are considered safe, with the FDA granting full approval to one of vaccines so far,” the statement said. “We will continue to lead by example. Our focus remains on providing a healthy, stable environment for our students and staff — they deserve that.”
SAISD’s board of trustees voted 6-1 to adopt a resolution Monday night supporting Martinez’s staff vaccine requirement and mask mandate, with board vice president Alicia Sebastian dissenting. While she is vaccinated, Sebastian said she did not make the decision to get vaccinated or her children vaccinated without some reservations.
“We’re getting into a very funny space of controlling people that I personally am not comfortable with,” she said. “I appreciate all the work that’s been done around COVID. I’ve been on this board for two years, but this will be the first time I will have to say I will not vote in support of this.”
Applause met Sebastian’s remarks. After the resolution was read, one woman, who was not wearing a mask, shouted at the board “you’re breaking the law,” referring to Abbott’s executive order.
Before the vote, several people spoke against the mandates, many of whom did not wear masks. Jeff Palmer, who said his wife works for SAISD, told the board that getting vaccinated should be up to individuals, such as his wife, who already had COVID-19. He said she cries every night, “distraught” because she may not have a job if she doesn’t get vaccinated.
“Mr. Martinez, I do believe you are dividing us,” Palmer said. “Mr. Martinez, please, please let it lie. Encourage people to do the right thing; don’t force them.”
In a statement, state Sen. José Menéndez (D-San Antonio) said Paxton’s lawsuit against SAISD for “implementing scientifically based methods to protect their employees and students is reckless and a frivolous use of taxpayer’s dollars!”
“Local government is closest to the people. We should be empowering our local school districts to enact public health measures that are best suited for their community,” Menéndez stated. “We stand with the San Antonio ISD, and encourage the use of scientifically proven methods of protection to guide us in developing public policy, including the mandating of vaccines and masks.”
On Friday, Paxton sued six other Texas school districts, targeting them for requiring masks, the Texas Tribune reported.