Galveston public school officials have been correct in ignoring Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order attempting to forbid public entities from requiring face coverings and vaccinations against COVID-19.

They have been correct in not rescinding rules requiring face coverings for students, faculty and staff despite a coercive, ideologically motivated lawsuit Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed earlier this month.

That lawsuit faces an initial test next week when a district court judge will decide whether to grant the state’s request for a temporary restraining order against the district.

No matter what happens at that hearing, Galveston public school leaders have been on the right side of the argument. They have been right in sticking to their guns. They should continue to do so, and they deserve the support of people in Galveston for having done so.

The real issue to be decided during that hearing has nothing to do with COVID-19 or masks or the locus of authority to mandate or forbid anything.

It boils down to whether Republican judges have the judicial integrity and intestinal fortitude to follow the law or will follow their party in its scramble to the right.

Most of what has happened in Texas politics and to Texas law in the past several months was in service of that migration and nothing else.

The governor’s executive order, the abortion laws, all of it was an attempt by Republican incumbents to encamp so far to the right that no primary challenger could dig in further right without actually falling off the flat Earth upon which some of them profess to live.

The truth, as school district attorneys have noted, is the governor has no authority to issue an executive order forbidding methods that might promote public health and safety.

Abbott issued his order under Section 418 of the Texas Government Code. That law gives the governor broad power to act in emergencies, but that power all flows in one direction.

He can do all sorts of things meant 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 catastrophes ... .”

The law gives him no power to do anything that might increase the vulnerability, however.

It’s possible to debate how much good things such as mask mandates and vaccine “passports” might do to reduce vulnerability of people and communities.

It’s impossible to argue with any credibility that such mandates do great harm by increasing the vulnerability of people and communities, however.

Even Abbott in previous executive orders, and in the same July order attempting to forbid mask mandates and vaccine passports, acknowledged face coverings and inoculation are effective ways to reduce vulnerability of people and communities.

The law gives the governor executive power to act in ways that might make things better but none to act in ways that might make things worse.

Even if there were a clearly enumerated personal right to go anywhere, dressed any way, at any time — which there isn’t — it’s not the governor’s role to enforce that right through executive order under the emergency powers law.

And that law certainly doesn’t give him executive power to usurp the authority of locally elected school boards for the main purpose of tickling the most reactionary part in his party’s base.

• Michael A. Smith

Michael A. Smith: 409-683-5206;​.


Recommended for you

(7) comments

Margaret Jimenez


Mary Gillespie

Michael, the governor hasn't said people can't wear masks. Only that they can't be FORCED to.

Charlotte O'rourke

It is the right choice to require masks indoors at public schools. It’s better to be overly cautious than pretending everything is normal when dealing with new diseases. All of the facts and studies are not known yet ... especially as new variants emerge.

I don’t understand why anyone would prohibit that extra layer of protection for unvaccinated children and then use public money to sue for noncompliance.

Mary Gillespie

Charlotte, the absence of facial communication contributed to rampant depression and anxiety among students. That piece of cloth impedes verbal communication, making it difficult to understand and be understood. Further, it's EXHAUSTING to labor to speak and breathe through them 9 hours per day. They should not be required by the school. Now, if a parent wants to instruct their own child to wear a mask all day, nobody is stopping them.

Charlotte O'rourke

Hi Mary, I know it is difficult for anyone to wear a mask as both verbal and facial communications are impeded.

But according to the research it’s one of the tools that is supposed to reduce indoor transmission of covid. Students need direct contact with teachers and other students for emotional health as well as to facilitate learning.

Schools staying open, keeping everyone safe, and preventing further isolation of employees and students should be the goals.

There are pros and cons of wearing a mask and I respect your opinion as well as others’ opinions.

The only thing I do not respect is if a public body tries to hide the debate in closed session or allows managers to decide public policy instead of our elected representatives making the policy decisions. It is why I’ve been posting over the last 2 years about lack of transparency at port meetings .... too many inappropriate closed meetings and allowing management to make policy decisions by falsely calling it “operations”. I want to hear the debate.

I feel the same way about school board members who have a duty to set policy by posting the topic on the agenda and debating and voting in public as Texas City did as reflected in their August minutes. Serving the community on the school board is a tough job. Teaching is a tough job especially while masked, but if it keeps children healthy, just like our health care workers do everyday, I’m sure most employees of the school district would make the sacrifice.

The fractured policy of our government requiring masks indoors on public transportation but refusing to allow local school districts to require masks indoors around unvaccinated children is illogical, confusing, divisive, and DANGEROUS to health.

Thanks for taking the time to post and express your views. It’s appreciated.

Lisa Marie

Guess there isn't much confidence among the vaccinated school employees. Too bad the vaccines are so unreliable. Nobody wants a mandate, period. Not for a mask, not for an experimental drug, and certainly not one for proof of any health condition. Freedom is fleeting anymore.

Charlotte O'rourke

Masks help to prevent outbreaks and school closures. Masks could save in person learning,

No one likes mask, but to protect unvaccinated children and keep schools open and learning the inconvenience of a mask is preferable to a lifetime of regrets because of serious illness or even death.

Welcome to the discussion.

Real Names required. No pseudonyms or partial names allowed. Stand behind what you post.
Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.

Thank you for reading!

Please log in, or sign up for a new account and purchase a subscription to read or post comments.