Judge Mary Lou Alvarez of the 45th District Court denied the state of Texas’ request for a temporary injunction Friday, allowing the San Antonio Independent School District to continue requiring its employees to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Former SAISD Superintendent Pedro Martinez, who has since left the district to take a job in Chicago, issued the vaccine mandate on Aug. 16, requiring all staff members to be vaccinated by Oct. 15. SAISD board President Christina Martinez said Thursday that about 90% of SAISD staff has been vaccinated.

Alvarez’s decision came after a hearing on the state’s request for temporary relief against the vaccine mandate was delayed. Another state district judge denied the school district’s challenge on Sept. 23 that the state and Gov. Greg Abbott did not have jurisdiction to sue. SAISD then appealed that ruling, pushing back the original hearing for the state’s lawsuit; the appeal was dropped earlier this week.

After Alvarez’s ruling, the state’s legal team said they planned to appeal. A trial for the lawsuit is set for Jan. 19, 2022.

Attorneys representing SAISD and from Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office laid out their arguments during a Friday videoconference hearing. While SAISD contended that Abbott does not have the ability to suspend all laws, the state argues that the Texas Disaster Act gives Abbott broad powers to do so and that SAISD’s vaccine mandate directly violates Abbott’s executive order issued on Aug. 25. That order states that no entities receiving public funds can require coronavirus vaccines. Before, Abbott had prevented those entities from requiring coronavirus vaccines that were not approved by the Food and Drug Administration.  

Attorneys representing the state argued that Abbott clearly has the authority to suspend any statutes, any orders, and any rules that would “in any way prevent, hinder, or delay necessary action and coping with a disaster.”

Deputy Attorney General Aaron Reitz added that SAISD is the only school district in Texas that has required vaccines for its staff and that if the district believes in the “scientific basis for a vaccine mandate,” the courts are not the proper place to bring that forward.

“Bring it to your state legislator, bring it to your state senator, bring it to the governor, bring it to the lieutenant governor — but the court of law is not the place to have that argument,” Reitz said. “It’s totally inappropriate to consider the policy considerations here.”

Attorney Steve Chiscano, who represented SAISD, dismissed the state’s lawsuit as a political ploy.

“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,” Chiscano said. “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.”

Paxton did not appear in virtual court on Friday, but weighed in on the case via Twitter on Wednesday: “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.”

Chiscano argued that the state did not bring any evidence that requiring vaccines was outside the school district’s scope of power. He also said the current gubernatorial executive order does not appear to “reduce vulnerability of people and communities of this state to damage, injury, and loss of life and property resulting from natural or man-made catastrophe,” as the Texas Disaster Act of 1975 states. 

“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 said.

He added that simply referring back to an executive order is not enough evidence to prove the governor has the authority to block SAISD from requiring vaccines.

Alvarez agreed, saying that the evidence that state attorneys brought forward on Friday did not show imminent harm or a “valid cause of action.” 

“To the extent that the state has offered eloquent, passionate arguments, thank you for the presentation,” she said. “But that is not the assessment for today.

“Get your evidence in order and go to trial. This is not the town square. This is not a place for bullhorn arguments. Follow the process and the protocol.”

This is the second time Paxton has sued SAISD over its vaccine mandate. Paxton first sued SAISD in August, but that lawsuit was dropped after the FDA approved the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine. He filed the second lawsuit in early September.

Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang is the local government reporter at the San Antonio Report.