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A federal judge overruled Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s ban on mask mandates in schools, opening up the ability for school districts to set their own rules.
US District Court Judge Lee Yeakel said the order violated the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act because it hindered access to public education and put students with disabilities at risk for contracting COVID-19.
“The spread of COVID-19 poses an even greater risk for children with special health needs,” Yeakel wrote in his ruling on Wednesday.
“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 that hospital’s intensive-care unit,” he said.
The ruling comes after months of legal and political disputes in Texas over mask policies to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, The New York Times reported. Abbott and some state officials have opposed coronavirus-related mandates and urged personal responsibility with vaccines, masks, and other safety protocols.
Days after Abbott issued the order in August, Disability Rights Texas, a nonprofit advocacy group, filed the lawsuit on behalf of several families of students with disabilities, according to NPR. They claimed that the ban put students at risk by allowing unmasked students to potentially spread the virus in classrooms and prevented schools from providing accommodations for vulnerable students. They also argued that school districts should make their own decisions based on data about coronavirus transmission in their communities and their students’ needs.
Yeakel noted that more than 211,000 Texas students had tested positive for COVID-19 between the beginning of the school year and the end of October. What’s more, at least 45 districts in the state have temporarily shut down because of outbreaks among students and staff, NPR reported.
Under Yeakel’s ruling, the state will be prohibited from imposing fines, withholding educational funding, or suing school districts that require students to wear masks. Ken Paxton, the attorney general for Texas who was named as a defendant in the lawsuit, had already sued 15 districts to overturn local mask mandates, NPR reported.
Paxton spoke out against the ruling on Wednesday.
“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,” he wrote in a post on Twitter.
“My Agency is considering all legal avenues to challenge this decision,” he said.
The Texas State Supreme Court has sided with state officials at other times this year, allowing the order to remain in effect, NPR reported. But Wednesday’s ruling from a federal court could have implications for similar cases in other states, including Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Utah.
“We are thankful that school districts can now take the steps necessary to protect these students,” Kym Davis Rogers, a litigation attorney at Disability Rights Texas, said in a statement.
“No student should be forced to make the choice of forfeiting their education or risking their health, and now they won’t have to,” she said.
Créditos: Comité científico Covid