They say local governments don’t have the power to force schools to delay in-person classes.
Houston health authorities issued an order last week to stop in-person learning, saying school districts must wait until at least Sept. 8 to bring students and staff back to campuses. The order was signed by Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and County Judge Lena Hidalgo.
"Our actions to save lives from this crisis should be guided by public health, science, and compassion for the health and safety of our residents - not politics," Hidalgo said in a statement.
But Abbott said that’s against long-standing Texas laws that leave the decision up to local school boards and Texas Education Agency guidance.
The TEA previously announced that school boards can delay in-person learning for up to four weeks.
"The authority to decide how schools will safely open this year, again, lies with local school boards. It can be with students in schools, it can be through remote learning, or a combination of the two,” Abbott said in a statement. “In making that decision, school boards have the ability to base their decisions on advice and recommendations by local public health authorities but are not bound by those recommendations.”
Local authorities do have the right to close a school if there’s an outbreak on campus.
“But local health authorities do not have the power to issue preemptive, blanket closures of schools weeks or months in advance of when a school may open its doors to students,” according to Abbott.
He said, “the top priority is protecting the health of students, teachers, staff and families.”
"The Texas State Teachers Association has more confidence in the professionalism of local health officials and their determination to act in the best interests of all Texans, including our children," the TSTA said in a statement. "We have less confidence in Ken Paxton, whose primary goal as attorney general has been to advance an ideological agenda. Now, he is promoting President Trump’s election-year demands that school campuses reopen prematurely, regardless of the price that educators, students and their families may pay."
Several area school districts, including HISD, had already decided to offer online learning only until after Labor Day. Others are planning to begin in-person learning in August.