Court Battles

Judge knocks down Abbott’s ban on mask mandates in Texas schools

Associated Press/LM Otero

A federal judge ruled Wednesday that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) ban on mask mandates in schools violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a decision that Texas’s attorney general quickly pledged to challenge. 

U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel sided with the defendants’ argument that masking would help lower the likelihood of disabled students, who are particularly at risk, catching the coronavirus and facilitate their safe in-person learning. 

But because the executive order “precludes mask requirements in schools, Plaintiffs are either forced out of in-person learning altogether or must take on unnecessarily greater health and safety risks than their nondisabled peers,” Yeakel wrote.

“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,” thus violating the ADA, he added. 

The ruling also barred Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) from carrying out the executive order in any way.

“I strongly disagree with Judge Yeakel’s opinion barring my office from giving effect to [the executive order], which prohibits mask mandates imposed by government entities like school districts,” Paxton tweeted in response.

“My Agency is considering all legal avenues to challenge this decision,” he added. 

Renae Eze, Abbott’s press secretary, said in a statement that the governor believed the court’s decision was “flawed” and that he did care about the well-being of students with disabilities.
“As a paraplegic himself, Governor Abbott cares deeply about the health and safety of disabled students, just as he does for all Texas students. Governor Abbott continues to advocate for Texans with disabilities through the Texas Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities,” Eze said.
“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,” she added. 

The decision was lauded by Disability Rights Texas, which filed its lawsuit against the executive order on behalf of several families with students with disabilities. 

“We are thankful that school districts can now take the steps necessary to protect these students,” Kym Davis Rogers, litigation attorney at Disability Rights Texas, said in a statement on Wednesday. “No student should be forced to make the choice of forfeiting their education or risking their health, and now they won’t have to.”

— Updated Nov. 11 at 2:50 p.m.

Tags ADA COVID-19 Greg Abbott Greg Abbott Ken Paxton mask mandate Texas

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