A federal district court judge on Wednesday dealt a frustrating blow to Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s attempts to ban school districts and other local governmental units in his state from implementing pandemic-related mask mandates, as Fox News reports.
In late July, the Republican governor issued an executive order that blocked local government entities from requiring facial coverings in schools, and soon after, a nonprofit advocacy organization known as Disabled Rights Texas initiated a lawsuit contending that Abbott’s rule impeded accommodations for disabled children who are more susceptible to severe outcomes from COVID-19 infection, according to NPR.
Judge Lee Yeakel this week ruled that Abbott’s prohibition on mask mandates in schools represented a violation of federal laws designed to safeguard disabled kids’ access to public education services, specifically, the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act.
“The spread of COVID-19 poses an even greater risk for children with special health needs,” Yeakel wrote in his opinion, according to the New York Post, adding, “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.”
In the judge’s estimation, “The evidence presented by Plaintiffs establishes that Plaintiffs are being denied the benefits of in-person learning on an equal basis as their peers without disabilities” due to the inability of districts to impose mask requirements.
Yeakel’s ruling prevents Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton from initiating lawsuits against school districts that defiantly put mask mandates in place, something he started doing this past summer, saying at the time, “Not only are superintendents across Texas openly violating state law, but they are using district resources – that ought to be used for teacher merit raises or other educational benefits – to defend their unlawful political maneuvering.”
Paxton will also be forbidden from imposing monetary fines, withholding school funding, or continuing litigation against the 15 districts he had already sued in an attempt to overturn mask requirements issued at the local level.
Texas disability rights attorney Kym Davis Rogers hailed the judge’s decision, declaring, “We are thankful that school districts can now take the steps necessary to protect these students. No student should be forced to make the choice of forfeiting their education or risking their health, and now they won’t have to.”
In welcome news for countless Texans, Paxton suggested on Twitter Wednesday evening that he would be appealing the ruling, saying, “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. My Agency is considering all legal avenues to challenge this decision.”