The judge found that Abbott’s executive order violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.
A federal judge has overturned Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order prohibiting mask mandates in public schools, saying the rule violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.
According to The Texas Tribune, the Wednesday ruling came after a coalition of Texas parents and disability advocates charged the state with violating the A.D.A.’s provisions.
In their initial complaint, the plaintiffs asserted that Texas was not only putting disabled children at higher risk for contracting novel coronavirus, but forcing many to forgo in-person education for their own safety.
Disability Rights Texas, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of several Texas families, said any enforcement of the mask-mandate ban would deprive high-risk disabled children of the public education—and associated benefits, such as extracurricular activities—to which they are entitled.
In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel found that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton cannot enforce the ban on mask mandates.
Paxton, notes The New York Times, had earlier sent district superintendents letters threatening them with “legal action by his office to enforce the governor’s orders and protect the rule of law.”
In early September, Paxton filed lawsuits against six different districts which had refused to rescind their mask mandates.
Despite the state’s insistence, Yeakel said the rule necessarily excluded disabled children from being able to participate in public education and associated activities.
“The spread of COVID-19 poses an even greater risk for children with special health needs,” Yeakel said. “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.”
Kym Davis Rogers, a litigation attorney with Disability Rights Texas, praised the ruling, saying that the federal courts found that Abbott and his administration is not above the law.
“No student should be forced to make the choice of forfeiting their education or risking their health, and now they won’t have to,” Rogers said in a statement.
While the Texas Attorney General’s Office has yet to issue a formal response, Paxton said he disagrees with the court’s decision and is keeping all options—including appeal—on the table.
“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 on Twitter. “My Agency is considering all legal avenues to challenge this decision.”
The Texas Tribune observes that an appeal in the 5th Circuit is not unlikely, as Texas has repeatedly appealed local and federal challenges to its sovereignty.