San Antonio Independent School District temporarily halted its universal mask mandate Thursday, following a federal appellate court’s ruling that restored Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order banning mask mandates in schools.

The school district that serves about 45,000 students is “continuing to highly recommend” students and staff still wear masks, according to a letter interim Superintendent Robert Jaklich sent to families. The SAISD board of trustees will discuss how the district will move forward at its Monday meeting.

“Our goal, from the very beginning of this pandemic, has been simple. Your safety and the safety of our children has always been our number one priority,” Jaklich wrote in the letter. “We are proud to have taken every precaution, from masking and social distancing to weekly testing and frequent vaccination clinics. These admirable actions have resulted in extremely low COVID-19 positivity rates, and we will continue with these efforts.”

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Nov. 24 to uphold Abbott’s executive order after Attorney General Ken Paxton appealed an earlier decision by a federal district judge in Austin that allowed schools to implement mask mandates to fight the spread of the coronavirus. The advocacy group Disability Rights Texas filed the federal lawsuit in August, arguing that Abbott’s order and the Texas Education Agency’s enforcement of the mask mandate ban place children with disabilities at risk and denied them access to public education.

Many school districts have already lifted their mask mandates as COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalizations declined and vaccines became available for students as young as 5.

SAISD issued the mask mandate in August, along with a staff vaccine mandate that has been challenged in court by Paxton. The district also paused its vaccine mandate after the Texas Supreme Court temporarily blocked the mandate while the 4th Court of Appeals considers the state’s appeal of a Bexar County’s judge’s decision not to issue a temporary injunction to stop the vaccine mandate.

Several Texas school districts have sued Abbott over his executive order, including Northside ISD, the largest in San Antonio. That case is pending in the 3rd Court of Appeals in Austin.

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Brooke Crum

Brooke Crum covered education for the San Antonio Report.