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Court of Appeals’ Upheld Abbott’s Ban of School Mask Mandates

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Governor Greg Abbott. | Image from Texas Tribune

Governor Greg Abbott’s ban on school mask mandates in Texas was reaffirmed Wednesday by the United States 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The 5th Circuit panel of judges reviewed the ban due to controversy regarding its effects on school children, particularly those with disabilities.

Lawyers for Disability Rights Texas filed an initial federal lawsuit over the ban in August, claiming that prohibiting face-covering requirements put students with disabilities at risk and violated their right to certain protections. The group argued that school officials should decide whether students and staff must wear masks based on information relevant to their specific campus.

Federal Judge Lee Yeakel filed an injunction on Abbott’s order in November. He claimed that banning mask mandates in schools violated the rights of students with disabilities because it barred districts from implementing mask requirements to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, for which those students are at greater risk.

Yeakel’s ruling alleged that Abbott’s ban, therefore, interfered with schools’ ability to fulfill their obligations as required under federal disability law. Attorney General Ken Paxton appealed this decision, taking the case to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

5th Circuit judges concluded Wednesday that disallowing mask mandates does not directly translate to harm for students. They reasoned that the alleged injury to these students due to enforcement of the order is “more abstract.” The judges also felt that Yeakel’s injunction was too broad, as it sought to block Abbott’s ban in all Texas public schools.

The Appeals Court’s final decision was to stay Judge Yeakel’s ruling and halt the injunction, thereby honoring Governor Abbott’s order.

Paxton praised the Court’s verdict Wednesday on Twitter, emphatically stating Abbott’s executive order is “THE LAW.”

Governor Abbott also commented on the halted injunction, thanking Paxton and calling it “GREAT NEWS” that the Court of Appeals upheld the order.

Dustin Rynders, an attorney for Disability Rights Texas, lamented the decision. “As new COVID variants threaten to make an improving situation worse again, it is imperative schools have the option of requiring masks in the class, campus, or district as needed to protect vulnerable students.”

The group intends to make their case again in the future, hopeful that the outcome will be in their favor when that time comes.

There will be an additional briefing and hearing on the subject before the 5th Circuit at a later date.

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