A federal judge ruled on Wednesday that the executive order imposed by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) banning mask mandates in schools violates the Americans with Disabilities Act, giving local officials the ability to set their own policies on face coverings.
Disability Rights Texas filed the lawsuit against Abbott, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, and Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath in August, saying the order denied kids with disabilities, who are at a higher risk of illness and death from the virus, access to public education. U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel agreed, saying on Wednesday that the order keeps children with disabilities from getting the programs, services, and activities at public schools they are entitled to receive.
"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."
In a statement, Disability Rights Texas litigation attorney Kym Davis Rogers said the ruling shows Texas isn't above federal 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 added.
A recent University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll found that 57 percent of voters in the state are in favor of mask requirements in indoor public spaces depending on local COVID conditions, and 58 percent support mask requirements for public school students and staff.