A disability rights group filed a complaint in federal district court on Tuesday against Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s executive order prohibiting government agencies from issuing a mask mandate.
Disability Rights Texas filed the lawsuit on behalf of 14 Texas school children, all of whom have disabilities or medical conditions that put them at increased risk due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. All the children are also under the age of 12, making them ineligible to receive any of the COVID-19 vaccines. At issue is the governor’s order that “No governmental entity … may require any person to wear a face covering or to mandate that another person wear a face covering.” The order prevents Texas school districts from following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines that all students, staff, teachers, and visitors to campus wear masks while indoors.
The lawsuit notes that several school districts, municipalities, and counties have filed lawsuits against the order, but those suits have to do with statutory authority. The suit filed on behalf of these children, on the other hand, challenges the executive order as violating both the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, both of which prohibit excluding students with disabilities from access to public education programs. Because the order prevents districts from implementing COVID-19 protocols, the parents of these children have to choose between denying their children education or sending them to schools where they are at an increased likelihood to contract COVID-19.
Julia Longoria, mother of one of the student plaintiffs, said, “Having to make a choice between my daughter’s education or her life – what kind of choice is that? My child has the right to an education and to be safe at school. I shouldn’t have to choose.” The complaint seeks a temporary restraining order preventing the governor from prohibiting school districts from imposing mask mandates. The Texas State Supreme Court recently ruled in the governor’s favor regarding the executive order, but that will not prevent the children’s federal case from moving forward.