DOJ argues Texas ban on mask mandates violates disabled students’ rights
AUSTIN, Texas - Does Gov. Greg Abbott’s ban on mask mandates in schools violate the rights of students with disabilities? A federal judge will answer that question in a trial in Austin Wednesday.
The trial, which gets underway at 9 AM, stems from a lawsuit brought by families of 14 children with disabilities who live in Texas.
In the courtroom, lawyers for the advocacy group Disability Rights Texas are expected to argue that by not allowing mask mandates, that puts students with disabilities at risk in terms of their health and safety. They claim the ban is discriminatory and violates federal legislation like the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act, arguing its’s unsafe for some students to take part in in-person learning without everyone masking up.
However, Abbott’s office points out the executive order doesn’t prohibit anyone in schools from wearing masks, it only prohibits mandating them. Abbott argues parents should have the freedom to make those decisions for their children. Attorney General Ken Paxton and the Texas Education Agency are defendants in today’s trial.
The Texas Pediatric Society and American Academy of Pediatrics are expected to weigh in on the issue as part of this trial.
The argument on behalf of these students is potentially bolstered by a statement of support from President Biden’s Department of Justice, which says "Plaintiffs’ factual allegations, if proved, would establish that the State’s implementation of Executive Order GA-38 has the effect of denying them an equal opportunity to participate in and benefit from the in-person instruction offered by their public schools."
Texas Republicans argue Democrats are trying to make this political. "This is the same unfair, biased pro-Democrat weaponization we've seen for far too long from the Department of Justice," said former Texas GOP Chair James Dickey.
"I believe they have a case, and I'm sorry it's come to this," said Glenn Smith, a senior strategist from Progress Texas.
Dr. Eddy Carder, a political science professor at Prairie View A&M, argues the outcome of this trial could have major implications.
"I just think this is an issue of preemption. And does the federal law pre-empts the state action or the governor's action or the governor's executive order?" said Carder. "I think it's safe to say that other states are certainly watching what happens in Texas."
It's unclear when the judge will issue a ruling.
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