Despite Gov. Greg Abbott's best efforts, 52 school districts and counties across the state, including several in the Austin area, have defied the governor's order and employed mask mandates in time for the 2021 school year.
Some districts, including Travis County's Eanes ISD, reversed their mandate after the Texas Supreme Court upheld Abbott's ban on local mask mandates in Dallas and Bexar counties on Aug. 15. But the Supreme Court appeared to change course as it sided with a Travis County judges' temporary restraining orders against Abbott's ban on Thursday, albeit only on a technicality.
The Texas Education Agency retaliated Thursday night as well and said they would not enforce Abbott's ban on any districts. Over the weekend, Austin ISD upped its safety protocols even further, announcing it would limit football games to 25% capacity for the second year in a row, while Round Rock ISD's superintendent said they could be tweaking their opt-out masking provisions as pediatric cases continue to rise.
The ping-pong game of a legal battle has left many parents, residents and even local officials confused on what authority has the power to enforce mask mandates as the highly contagious Delta variant continues to raise concerns for students, many of whom don't yet qualify for vaccination.
Here's how Austin-area schools are able to keep mask mandates despite the efforts of the state:
BREAKING: The Texas Supreme Court imposes a temporary halt to lower court decisions that overruled the State ban on mask mandates.— Greg Abbott (@GregAbbott_TX) August 15, 2021
The ban doesn't prohibit using masks. Anyone who wants to wear a mask can do so, including in schools.https://t.co/QeVipZMPWH
Governor Greg Abbott reversed his statewide mask mandate in March, effectively banning mask enforcements in all Texas cities and school districts. Since then, Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton, among other GOP lawmakers, have upheld a "personal choice mantra" when it comes to masking up.
Abbott's executive order leans on the Texas Disaster Act, which he says gives him the power to decide how to respond to statewide emergency situations. The clause says that Abbott can declare a "state of disaster" for a number of natural and man-made events, including an epidemic.
Sec. 418.02 of the mandate allows Abbott to "issue executive orders, proclamations, and regulations and amend or rescind them. Executive orders, proclamations, and regulations have the force and effect of law."
Under that clause, Abbott has both added and rescinded it's statewide mask mandate and enforced other safety measures including closing bars and limiting capacity,
But many school districts and cities say the clause doesn't give Abbott that breadth of power.
Cities, districts push back
ALL schools in Travis County should enforce masking.— Andy Brown (@TravisCoJudge) August 20, 2021
We’re seeing more COVID cases in schools and in younger people generally.
While many districts have been waiting for the courts, per new TEA guidance and the Texas Supreme Court ruling, our mask mandate is in effect
Seven school districts and cities have pushed lawsuits against the ban, with dozens more choosing to implement their own version of mask enforcement. Travis County and Austin ISD were among the first to make a move, joining Dallas and Bexar counties in employing mandates in their schools.
Dallas struck first with the most comprehensive mandate in the state, requiring masks on Dallas ISD properties as well as Dallas County businesses, while Bexar maintained pre-K-12 public schools and city facilities.
Austin soon followed suit. On Thursday, Aug. 12, the city mandated masking for residents over the age of 2 on city and county property, including public schools.
Travis County Judge Andy Brown said the decision would help protect kids under 12 who are still unable to get vaccinated, resulting in an increase in pediatric cases countywide.
"The order I signed today will protect countless lives and keep our community safe by requiring masks in public schools and county buildings," Brown said. "Our community faces the largest COVID-19 surge since the start of the pandemic."
Harris County joined other Texas metros in enforcing the ban days later, with a county judge siding with the county's restraining order. Soon 48 other districts across Texas defied Abbott's order as well. Paris ISD, a small district in northeast Austin, added masks to their dress code as a way to work around the ban.
Local courts, Supreme Court rulings clash
Over 50 TX gov’t entities have mandated masks in violation of law. I’m fighting all of it. San Antonio ISD has taken the even more egregious & illegal step of mandating vaccines for staff. This is plainly illegal & contrary to @GregAbbott_TX GA-38. So once again, I’m suing. https://t.co/lE1RgXLFtA— Attorney General Ken Paxton (@KenPaxtonTX) August 20, 2021
The moves didn't go unchallenged, however. On Sunday, August 15, the Texas Supreme Court sided with Abbott, striking down restraining orders in both Dallas and Bexar counties
Both counties were undeterred, however, and kept their mandate with few amendments. A hearing by a local judge in San Antonio the following day sided with the city in the ruling, and Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins was immoved by the verdict.
"For us this is not a battle over politics. This is about human beings versus the virus. And we're standing with our local hospitals and school superintendents to protect human life," Jenkins said.
On Thursday night, the Texas Supreme Court reversed course in allowing Travis County to uphold its mask mandate, though only on a technicality: because Abbott's appeal skipped a hearing in lower courts before reaching the Supreme Court, the court was not allowed to make a decision. On the same day, the TEA stopped enforcing Abbott's mandate in public schools as well.
The ruling was a victory for Austin ISD, who joined some South Texas schools and Harris County ISD in newfound immunity. But it's likely only temporary: Attorney General Ken Paxton said the office would continue to sue districts that violate Abbott's order, and the state will likely attempt to fine or defund schools that refuse to comply.
"Over 50 Texas government entities have mandated masks in violation of law," Paxton said on Twitter. "I'm fighting all of it... this is plainly illegal & contrary to Abbott's GA-38. So once again, I'm suing."
Travis County districts react
Several Austin-area districts have enforced mask mandates, while others have changed course after receiving pushback. Here's the latest on each district:
Austin ISD is still staunch in their mask mandate and is looking for more restrictions to ensure safety after students returned to campus Tuesday. The district is the largest in the area to allow virtual learning this year alongside nearby districts Round Rock, Leander, Pflugerville and Del Valle and has over 4,000 enrolled, some of which aren't even in the district themselves but are looking for a safer option. The school district will once again enforce contact tracing, meaning any student that comes into contact with someone infected with COVID will need to quarantine for 10-14 days. In addition, Austin ISD football games will once again be conducted at 25% capacity.
Round Rock ISD is implementing an opt-in style of masking, though that could be subject to change-the superintendent has asked the school board to edit its mandate to allow students to opt-out only for health or developmental circumstances.
Eanes ISD- in a roller coaster of events, Travis County's Eanes ISD enforced masks, reversed course and enforced them once again after parent protests and a teacher altercation made the district a political battleground. The district reported Friday that a parent ripped a mask off of a teacher at a meet-the-teacher event and another was yelled at.
Pflugerville, which also has a temporary restraining order against Abbott's ban, implemented a mask mandate within schools and city properties over the weekend.
Leander ISD- Despite protests from some parents, Leander ISD decided to uphold its mandate on Wednesday as cases in the area continue to climb.
Hays CISD, Hays County's largest district, hasn't employed any mask mandates, though many are fighting for that to change. Hays County Judge Ruben Becerra has upheld a temporary restraining order against Abbott's ban, but the district superintendent has not yet upped COVID restrictions. A school board meeting at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday will likely become heated as they look to find a solution.
Del Valle ISD, Manor ISD, Dripping Springs ISD, San Marcos CISD and Travis County United ISD have also enforced similar mask requirements.
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East Austin restaurant la Barbecue has been robbed a third time in less than three months, according to a post on the restaurant's Instagram.
In the post, the restaurant included photos of what appeared to be a man exiting a minivan from surveillance footage.
"This guy pulled up in a car full of stuff… he ripped our gate open and stole a couple empty kegs," the post said. "The ring system scared him off so he did not venture back into the area. PLEASE EVERYONE ON THE EAST SIDE BE CAREFUL!!! This guy goes back into his car to grab something before he goes in. I am hoping he won’t be back!!"
The robbery comes as many restaurant and food truck owners have been on guard from recent break-ins. East Austin cheesesteak truck R&B's Steak and Fries has also been robbed three times in around three months, according to owner Kris Elliott. Elliot said the truck was last robbed around a month and a half ago.
"When the weather gets cold, it seems like these things start to happen more often," Elliott said. "We're just happy no one got hurt."
Additionally, he said all 5 of the food trucks in their lot have experienced burglaries. The landlord of the space is taking action by investing in alarm and camera systems. "Been very tough dealing with this problem as us small business owners are just trying to survive during the pandemic," Elliott said.
And it's not just in East Austin. North Austin restaurants Eldorado Cafe and Chez Zee Bistro were both broken into and robbed on the weekend of Jan. 8, while over a dozen food truck robberies and break-ins were reported in the latter half of 2021.
Some, like Chez Zee's Deborah Velasco, wonder if the understaffed Austin Police Department's decision to no longer respond to non-emergency calls is part of the problem. Xose Velasco, owner of East Austin's Discada, said owners are keeping their guard up in the wake of the robberies as he was robbed twice within a month of reopening in November 2021.
"We try to keep the lights on," Velasco said. "We're a little bit more careful."
After 12 months, the long-anticipated massive Tesla factory in Southeast Travis County is up and operating and everyone wants a look inside.
Phase 1 of Giga Texas appears to be tied up as production of the Model Y Tesla is underway, the electric car company revealed on Wednesday in its fourth-quarter earnings call. The factory, located on the former Harold Green-turned Tesla Road, sits on more than 2,000 acres of land in southeast Travis County.
Here's a glimpse inside the factory.
Model Ys will be the first Teslas to come out of Giga Texas with an estimated delivery of August. The wait estimate comes after Tesla noted supply chain issues have affected their factories, which have been running below capacity for several quarters. A deep blue metallic like this goes for $1,000 more than a white or silver Model Y, totaling $61,990.
Model Ys began being produced at Giga Texas at the end of 2020. In general assembly at the factory, the Teslas get their major interior components to finish the vehicle.
Workers at Austin's Gigafactory are attaching seats to a structural battery pack. It's been described by some as the biggest difference between Texas-made Model Y's and the current version at the Fremont, California factory. It shouldn't have a major impact on the owner's experience, but Tesla has updated instructions for the jacking procedure, as the lift points are different.
With a sleek, open office setup, workers can take in a view of the factory from their seats. It's a component CEO Elon Musk wanted for what is now the headquarters of Tesla.
On the Austin, Texas public location Snapchat, a photo of inside Giga Texas has appeared. On the left you can see a sneak peek of a Model Y body.pic.twitter.com/N7zliZ5vkL— Sawyer Merritt (@Sawyer Merritt) 1643081462
With Snapchat's maps, anyone can look at everyday activity happening at the factory. To view these geographically-linked stories, click the bottom left "map" icon and search "Tesla Giga Texas." Once you've found it, you can view the Snapchat story of those in and around the facility. While most stories stay up for only 24 hours, Giga Texas is a designated place on Snapchat, allowing users to view a collection of photos and videos from the inside.
Following Model Ys, Texas-made Teslas will include the Cybertruck, Semi and Model 3. But it might be a while before those other models arrive. EV makers have been hit hard by the chip shortage, and it's thought that changing features are contributing to Cybertruck delays as Tesla works to compete in the electric pickup market.
Joe Rogan paid a visit to buddy Elon Musk this week. The two have been seen around town since both moving to Texas. Naturally, Rogan was impressed with the prototype.
If you're dying to get a closer look at this factory, you just might get to. In December, Musk said the factory would have tours available to the community early this year.
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