San Antonio Independent School District can continue requiring its staff to get vaccinated against COVID-19, despite a judge ruling against the district Thursday in a case filed by the Texas attorney general.
Judge Angelica Jimenez of the 408th District Court denied SAISD’s plea on Thursday that state Attorney General Ken Paxton lacks the legal authority to enforce Gov. Greg Abbott’s Aug. 25 executive order, which banned public entities, such as school districts, from mandating COVID-19 vaccines. Steve Chiscano, the attorney representing SAISD, immediately appealed the ruling.
Appealing Jimenez’s jurisdiction ruling delayed a hearing requested by the state to stop SAISD’s vaccine mandate with a temporary restraining order. The school district and attorney general’s office will make their arguments again before the 4th Court of Appeals. Case information is due at the court Oct. 4, according to online court records. The lawyers will file briefs, and justices will make a decision at an undetermined date.
Paxton sued SAISD and Superintendent Pedro Martinez on Sept. 9 for requiring all staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19, in defiance of Abbott’s executive order. This was the second suit Paxton brought against the district, after the first was dismissed.
In a statement, the district said Jimenez’s ruling does not enforce Abbott’s executive order prohibiting vaccine mandates and that SAISD would continue its vaccine protocols.
“We do not believe the Governor and Attorney General have the legal authority to continue this lawsuit, and we respectfully disagree with the judge’s ruling,” the district said in the statement. “We know that following the executive order and not requiring vaccination of our employees is potentially deadly, and we will do what is necessary to protect the children and staff of the district.”
In videoconference court Wednesday, Chiscano argued that Paxton and Abbott don’t have the legal right to bring lawsuits against entities that violate the governor’s executive orders. Paxton and Abbott have acknowledged in other court filings that neither has the right to enforce executive orders under the Texas Disaster Act.
Ralph Molina, an attorney with the attorney general’s office, said that argument was “absurd” and a “waste of the court’s time.” He said the question before the court was not whether Paxton’s office can bring legal action against “rogue officials” like Martinez but whether the school district violated state law.
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 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.
SAISD enrolls about 47,000 students and employs about 7,000 staff members.
This story has been updated to clarify the 4th Court of Appeals timeline.