(Trends Wide) — A federal judge ruled that Texas’ ban on mask mandates in schools violates the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to court documents filed Wednesday in the US District Court for the Western District of Texas.
The ruling follows months of clashes between state and local leaders over school mask mandates, not just in Texas, but across the country. Similar mandates became the subject of heated debate earlier this year, as the delta variant caused the number of COVID-19 cases to rise once again and schools in the United States began to reopen while many students were not yet. eligible for a vaccine.
According to court documents filed Wednesday, Texas independent school districts could choose whether to implement the mask mandates for in-person instruction during the 2020-2021 school year. But before the new school year, Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued an order that, among other things, prohibited public schools from requiring that students, staff and visitors wear masks on their premises.
“Texans, not the government, should decide their best health practices, so public school districts or government entities will not require masks,” Abbott had said in May. “We can continue to mitigate COVID-19 while defending the freedom of Texans to choose whether to wear a mask or not.”
Lawsuit Against the Governor of Texas
But as the state grappled with a nationwide spike in cases and hospitalizations over the summer, some school districts looked for ways around the ban or chose to ignore the governor’s order in hopes of slowing the spread of the virus.
Disability Rights Texas, an advocacy group, filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of several Texas families against the Governor, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, and Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath, alleging that the spread of the virus it presented “an even greater risk for children with special health needs.”
“Children with certain underlying conditions who contract COVID-19 are more likely to experience severe acute biological effects and require admission to a hospital and hospital intensive care unit,” the lawsuit says. “This includes children with conditions including Down syndrome, organ transplants, lung conditions, heart conditions, and weakened immune systems.”
The ruling signed by US District Court Judge Lee Yeakel says “the question is whether Governor Greg Abbott’s Executive Order GA-38 violates Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.”
“The evidence presented by Plaintiffs establishes that Plaintiffs are denied the benefits of in-person learning on an equal basis with their non-disabled peers. The court finds that GA-38 violates the ADA,” the ruling reads.
Following the judge’s decision, the Texas Attorney General wrote on Twitter: “I totally disagree with Judge Yeakel’s opinion that prohibits my office from giving effect to GA-38, which prohibits entity-imposed mask-wearing mandates. governments such as school districts. “
“My agency is considering all legal avenues to challenge this decision,” the attorney general wrote.
The ruling also follows a September announcement by the U.S. Department of Education’s civil rights enforcement arm of an investigation to determine whether the state’s ban on the masks mandate in schools prevented school districts from “considering or meet the needs of students with disabilities. “
At the time, the department said in a letter to Morath that it was “concerned that Texas’ restriction on schools and school districts from putting mask-wearing requirements may be preventing schools in Texas from meeting their legal obligations not to discriminate. for reasons of disability and to provide equal educational opportunities to students with disabilities who are at increased risk of suffering a serious illness due to covid-19 “.