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Disabled Kids Sue Texas Over Ban on Universal School Masks (1)

Aug. 18, 2021, 2:09 PM

More than a dozen disabled Texas children sued Governor Greg Abbott in federal court to overturn his ban against universal masking in schools, calling it a threat to their safety and a violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Their challenge, filed Tuesday in Austin, marks the spread of the legal resistance to Abbott’s ban beyond Texas’s state court system. There, litigation has exploded during the past week between the Republican governor and defiant local elected officials attempting to require masks in one of the country’s hottest infection zones.

The children’s challenge against Abbott, who has used a wheelchair since becoming a paraplegic in a running accident decades ago, was filed the same day the governor revealed he’d contracted Covid-19 even though he was vaccinated.

A spokesman for Abbott didn’t immediately return a call Wednesday morning seeking comment on the lawsuit.

Risk Factors

All 14 plaintiffs are younger than 12 and thus ineligible for Covid vaccinations. Their disabilities include Down syndrome, asthma, chronic lung and heart conditions, cerebral palsy and weakened immune systems, all of which have been identified by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as risk factors for developing severe Covid-19 infections.

U.S. anti-discrimination laws require schools to provide disabled students with access to a public school education, and Texas law makes school attendance compulsory for children.

“If school districts are unable to implement Covid-19 protocol as they each deem appropriate, parents of medically vulnerable students will have to decide whether to keep their children at home or risk placing them in an environment that presents a serious risk to their health and safety,” lawyers for the children said in the complaint.

Read More: Texas’s Abbott, Foe of Masking, Has Breakthrough Covid-19 Case

By blocking schools’ ability to accommodate these children with universal mask rules, Abbott is preventing the plaintiffs from safely returning to the classroom, they said. They seek a court order declaring Abbott’s ban invalid as it applies to school districts.

As Texas children return to classrooms for the fall semester, school district officials across the state have rebelled against the governor’s order and imposed mask requirements. Some districts won a temporary court order briefly suspending Abbott’s mask ban, but the legal fight continues at the Texas Supreme Court. Infections among U.S. children jumped from 12,000 in the first week of July to 96,000 in the first week of August, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the complaint said.

The children’s lawyers also say Abbott’s rule violates provisions of the American Rescue Plan Act, a federal economic stimulus law for the pandemic in which $11 billion was allocated to Texas school districts to make classrooms safe for in-person instruction.

The case is E.T. et al. v. Abbott, U.S. District Court, Western District of Texas (Austin).

(Adds details and context starting in fourth paragraph.)

To contact the reporter on this story:
Laurel Brubaker Calkins in Woodstock, Vermont, at laurel@calkins.us.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Katia Porzecanski at kporzecansk1@bloomberg.net

Peter Jeffrey

© 2021 Bloomberg L.P. All rights reserved. Used with permission.