The Justice Department has undertaken a new court action targeting Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott over his efforts to ban the imposition of mask mandates in schools. As in other locales where such policies have been outlined by GOP state authorities, certain schools have required mask mandates anyway, but Abbott has kept up the fight. Now, the Justice Department has filed a supportive formal statement with a federal court currently hearing a lawsuit targeting Abbott’s mask mandate ban, and in that statement, the department outlines how Abbott’s anti-mask policy stands to violate the rights of certain children.
In short, if certain medically vulnerable students require mask-wearing policies in order to safely attend school, then banning such policies could put these students in danger, in violation of the civil rights protections to which students are entitled. It’s the same argument underlying civil rights investigations opened up recently by an arm of the Education Department into certain areas where state authorities have moved to ban mask mandates. The formal statement filed this week by the Justice Department says that, should Abbott’s policy keep certain students from safely participating in in-person education, then it’s in violation of those students’ rights, “even if their local school districts offered them the option of virtual learning.”
Juliana Longoria, one of the Texas parents behind a lawsuit against Abbott’s mask mandate ban, said that she was “thrilled” by the Justice Department’s intervention, adding that the move “gives [her] a lot more hope that the federal government is serious about protecting our children.” Besides the argument in favor of protecting the civil rights of medically vulnerable children, the Justice Department’s recent formal intervention also took on the argument that Abbott had the authority to issue his school mask mandate ban as part of his powers to deal with emergencies like the pandemic. The Justice Department noted that federal protections for civil rights remain in effect “even during emergencies.”
The federal government has taken another notable step in defense of vulnerable students amid the pandemic. In Florida, federal officials have provided hundreds of thousands of dollars in grant money across two school districts where the administration of Republican Governor Ron DeSantis has withheld certain funds in retaliation for the imposition of school mask mandates. DeSantis has sought to block school mask mandates, and the withheld funds are meant to be equal to the salaries of school board members who supported mandates. The federal grant money helps cover the shortfall.