Federal Judge Lee Yeakel has now struck down an executive order from Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott that was meant to block the imposition of mask mandates in schools amid the ongoing threat of COVID-19. Yeakel concluded that the policy stood in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) because of the outsized impact on medically vulnerable children who would need mask policies in order to safely attend school — the same issue that led to the opening of a federal civil rights investigation into Texas educational policies.
Yeakel observed that “[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” — and as such, he “said the governor’s order impedes children with disabilities from the benefits of public schools’ programs, services and activities to which they are entitled,” as The Texas Tribune summarizes. Kym Davis Rogers, who serves as a litigation attorney with Disability Rights Texas and whose organization filed the lawsuit that led to Yeakel’s ruling, expressed thankfulness for the judge’s conclusions, commenting as follows:
‘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.’
Texas state Attorney General Ken Paxton said after the ruling that his “Agency is considering all legal avenues to challenge this decision,” presumably including appeals. Mask policies for schools, however, can be critical — it’s only last week that the first COVID-19 vaccines for children ages 5 to 11 were finally approved, and now, there’s still the issue of getting the shots out to the young people who need them.
Notably, attorney Ryan Kercher — who has represented Texas authorities in these proceedings — claimed that state officials weren’t even enforcing the anti-mask mandate order from Abbott and thus weren’t in a position to be sued, but Disability Rights Texas presented documentation showing involvement by state education officials and Paxton in antagonistically singling out school districts that imposed mask mandates. Enforcement wasn’t merely the purview of officials at other levels of government. Read more on the issue at this link.
Texas isn’t the only state where Republican state leaders have imposed policies seeking to stop the imposition of mask mandates in schools — and it’s not the only state where local education officials have imposed such policies in defiance of orders along those lines. Other such states include Arizona and Florida. Meanwhile, in Texas, Abbott has attempted to block the imposition of any mandate to receive COVID-19 vaccines, but major companies based in the state including American Airlines and Southwest Airlines announced that they’d be imposing vaccination mandates for employees anyway, in connection to an order from the Biden administration for government contractors to have employees vaccinated.