Texas AG says religious private schools can decide when to reopen

SAN ANTONIO (KTSA News) – Attorney General Ken Paxton has issued a guidance letter to religious private schools in Texas, informing them that local public health orders attempting to restrict their reopenings violate the United States and Texas Constitutions and the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act.  Moreover, local orders seeking to restrict the reopening of religious private schools or institutions is inconsistent with Governor Abbott’s executive orders, and therefore, are invalid.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg was asked about the AG’s letter at the Friday evening COVID-19 briefing.

“Well, we’re fortunate here in San Antonio that we’ve had a faith community that has been proactive about COVID-19 and has really followed the guidance, whether or not required to,” said Nirenberg. “It’s starting to feel like if our interest is in saving lives, we should do our best to ignore our attorney general, in general.”

Friday evening, San Antonio Metro Health has issued a health directive requiring schools to remain closed until after Labor Day.  The edict, which applies to local public and private schools, warns that the start of on-campus instruction and activity may be delayed further, based on monitoring and assessment of public health mitigation conditions.

Before the directive was issued, Jordan McMorrough, director of communications for the Archdiocese of San Antonio told KTSA News that the scheduled start date for Catholic Schools in the archdiocese is August 17.  They’ll continue to assess the on- or off-campus situation as it gets closer to that time, and are prepared for both scenarios. He said they’re also pleased with the guidance issued by the State Attorney General.

The Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops also thanked Paxton “for the guidance issued today that clarifies that ‘religious private schools may continue to determine when it is safe for their communities to resume in-person instruction free from any government mandate or interference.”

Marti West,  superintendent of Catholic Schools in the Archdiocese of San Antonio, said they’re in contact almost daily with state and local authorities and remain committed to taking whatever steps are necessary in order to ensure safe re-entry to campuses.

“We believe that Catholic schools, due to our smaller size, are able to adhere to safety protocols and social distancing measures recommended by the CDC to create a very safe environment for students, faculty and staff,” said West. “Understanding that this health crisis will definitely impact schools for the 2020-2021 school year, we have already planned for operating in both on- and off-campus learning environments with flexibility and options.”

“As the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed just last week, there are robust constitutional and statutory protections unique to religious individuals and communities, specifically including religious private schools,” said Attorney General Paxton. “In accordance with the protections granted by the First Amendment and Texas law, this guidance allows religious private schools to determine for themselves when to reopen free from any government mandate or interference.”

You can read Paxton’s letter here. 




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