FORT WORTH — A judge on Friday granted a temporary restraining order preventing the Fort Worth Independent School District from requiring masks amid a surge in COVID cases.
Four parents of students who attend Fort Worth ISD filed a petition seeking the restraining order.
A hearing was held Friday afternoon in the 141st District Court in Fort Worth. In his ruling, Judge John Chupp suggested that it was improper for an unelected school superintendent, Kent Scribner, to determine the policy.
The restraining order will be in effect at least until Aug. 26. Chupp will consider a temporary injunction at a hearing on that date.
The 230-page lawsuit filed Thursday identifies parents Jennifer Treger, Todd Daniel, Kerri Rehmeyer and an anonymous mother as plaintiffs in the case. Scribner and the Fort Worth school district are the defendants.
The petition states that the district’s face-covering policy announced earlier this week is an illegal act under Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order prohibiting local government mask mandates.
The plaintiffs asked the court to issue a temporary restraining order, followed by a temporary injunction and finally a permanent injunction after the court fully hears the merits of the case.
In a statement following the judge’s order Friday, Fort Worth ISD said, “We believe Tuesday’s announcement regarding masks for students, employees, and visitors to our campuses was the right thing to do. However, we will certainly honor today’s court order blocking the mask requirement.
“Nevertheless, FWISD strongly recommends that all students, parents, employees and visitors, please, consider the importance of wearing a face mask while we are still in the midst of the pandemic and COVID cases remain high,” the district’s statement concluded.
Scribner announced on Tuesday during a special board meeting that Fort Worth schools would require masks to begin the school year.
The superintendent said he was immediately directing a mask mandate for all students and employees indoors and on buses. He said the district would monitor COVID-19 data and revisit the protocol as needed. Classes begin Monday.
“The safety of students and staff has and always will be our priority,” Scribner said Tuesday.
He said his decision to enforce masks was made after he received a letter signed by 125 physicians from Cook Children’s Health Care System that highlights the importance of masking and social distancing.
The Dallas-Fort Worth Hospital Council said Thursday that all staffed pediatric ICU beds in the 19-county North Texas trauma service area were full. On Thursday, a record 73 confirmed COVID-19 pediatric patients were hospitalized in the region.
In a statement Thursday, Cook Children’s officials said, “Bed availability is an ever-changing situation due to staffing, patient needs and other factors. Like many other hospitals in our region, Cook Children’s Medical Center is seeing a high inpatient census due to COVID-19 and RSV, in addition to other illnesses and injuries.
“Capacity is tight but we are not sending patients to other hospitals at this time,” Cook Children’s said. “If the situation arises where we cannot accommodate a patient at our hospital, we will find a bed for them at an appropriate facility.”
Fort Worth became one of the latest major urban school districts to defy Abbott’s executive order preventing public schools from enforcing masks.
On Monday, the Dallas and Austin school districts said they will require students and teachers to wear masks on campus. Houston ISD officials approved a mask mandate Thursday.
Before the Friday afternoon hearing, Norred Law in Arlington, the firm representing the Fort Worth parents who are suing the district, released this statement: “At some point, people are going to have to recognize that requiring face coverings on school-aged children has a cost that exceeds its benefit.”
The petition included Abbott’s state order banning mask mandates, and school district email communications indicating any change in school policy required approval by the school board and that no vote was taken on Tuesday.
In court documents, Daniel said he has two children attending Arlington Heights High School in the Fort Worth school district, and noted he had past experience with the school’s mask policy.
The policy was damaging to his children last school year, leading to “poor school performance, trouble breathing, lethargy, fear of social stigma among peers, and even contempt from teachers,” he wrote in court documents.
Rehmeyer wrote that her daughter attended her classes online last year because she didn’t want her to be forced to wear a mask all day, which she believes is unhealthy.
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