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Wednesday, October 5, 2022
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Federal Judge Overturns Texas’ Ban on Masks in School

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Kids sitting at seperate desks wearing masks. | Image by Halfpoint

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On Wednesday, a federal judge overturned Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s executive order that banned schools from implementing mask mandates.  U.S. District Court Judge Lee Yeakel ruled that the executive order violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)  

The ADA has been law since 1990 and prohibits organizations and employers from excluding or denying individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to receive program benefits and services.    

Judge Yeakel ruled that the governor’s order violates the ADA because it ‘denies’ children with disabilities access to public school programs, services, and activities, as they are particularly vulnerable to the virus.     

“The spread of COVID-19 poses an even greater risk for children with special health needs,” Yeakel said in the ruling. “Children with certain underlying conditions who contract COVID-19 are more likely to experience severe acute biological effects and to require admission to a hospital and the hospital’s intensive-care unit.”    

Judge Yeakel also stated that a basis for his decision was that more than 211,000 Texas students had tested positive for COVID-19 between the beginning of the 2021-22 school year and October 31. He also noted that at least 45 districts in the state have temporarily shut down because of outbreaks among students and staff.  

Despite the executive order, some schools still required masks for their students. This opened the door for comparison.  

The Texan News broke down the stats, “From the beginning of this school year to the end of September, 1.89 percent of students at schools with mask mandates have tested positive, compared to 2.93 percent of students at schools without mask mandates.” Meaning schools with mask mandates had less than a one percent decrease in their COVID-19 positivity rate.

The decision comes in response to a lawsuit filed in early August, just days after Governor Abbott’s order was announced. The suit was filed by several parents of young children with disabilities and the advocacy group Disability Rights Texas. They argued that the governor’s order put children with disabilities in danger as they are at high risk of illness and death from the virus.    

“In spite of national and local guidance urging precaution, Governor Abbott’s Executive Order prohibits local school districts from even considering whether to implement the most basic and effective COVID-19 prevention strategy in school settings,” the lawsuit read. Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath, State Attorney General Ken Paxton, and Abbott were named defendants in the suit.    

The order allowed Paxton to impose fines, withhold educational funding, or sue school districts that required students to wear masks. Paxton had already sued fifteen school districts to overturn local mask mandates that those districts had imposed. The decision on mask mandates in schools will now be in the hands of local school districts.     

Later Wednesday, Paxton responded on Twitter. “I strongly disagree with Judge Yeakel’s opinion barring my office from giving effect to GA-38, which prohibits mask mandates imposed by government entities like school districts,” Paxton wrote. “My Agency is considering all legal avenues to challenge this decision.”     

Governor Abbott’s press secretary Renae Eze also released a statement in response. “As a paraplegic himself, Governor Abbott cares deeply about the health and safety of disabled students, just as he does for all Texas students,” read the statement. “Governor Abbott continues to advocate for Texans with disabilities through the Texas Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities. Nevertheless, he believes the federal district court’s decision to be flawed and is working with the Attorney General’s office to appeal that decision in order to protect Texans’ rights against school districts attempting to impose mask mandates.” 

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