Updated Nov 11, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Federal judge overturns Texas mask mandate ban for public schools

 Texas Governor Greg Abbott speaks during the Houston Region Business Coalition's monthly meeting on October 27, 2021 in Houston, Texas.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

A federal judge ruled Wednesday that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's (R) ban on mask mandates in state public schools "violates" the rights of students with disabilities.

Why it matters: U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel wrote in the ruling that the Americans with Disabilities Act overrides Abbott's order issued earlier this year prohibiting government entities in the state, including public schools, from requiring masks.

  • Yeakel's ruling, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, could have an impact on other Republican-led states seeking to prohibit mask mandates in schools.

Driving the news: The judge's ruling was in response to a lawsuit filed by advocacy group Disability Rights Texas and families of students with disabilities challenging Abbott's order.

  • The ruling means Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton can't enforce Abbott's order to impose a fine of up to $1,000 for entities that implement mask mandates.

Details: "The spread of COVID-19 poses an even greater risk for children with special health needs. 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," Yeakel wrote.

  • "This includes children with conditions including, Down Syndrome, organ transplants, lung conditions, heart conditions, and weakened immune systems."
"The evidence presented by Plaintiffs establishes that Plaintiffs are being denied the benefits of in-person learning on an equal basis as their peers without disabilities."
— Yeakel

Of note: The Texas Supreme Court has on several occasions ruled in favor of Abbott's ban.

What they're saying: Kym Davis Rogers, litigation attorney at Disability Rights Texas, said in a statement that the group was "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," Rogers added.

The other side: Paxton tweeted that he "strongly" disagreed with Judge Yeakel's "opinion barring my office from giving effect" to the executive order, "which prohibits mask mandates imposed by government entities like school districts."

  • "My Agency is considering all legal avenues to challenge this decision," he added

What to watch: The Education Department in August launched investigations into five GOP-led states that banned mask mandates in schools for possible discrimination against students with disabilities or underlying medical conditions.

Editor's note: This article has been updated with new details throughout.

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