Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott suffered a setback Wednesday in his fight against school mask mandates as a federal judge overturned his executive order banning the requirements.
Austin US District Judge Lee Yeakel ruled that Abbott’s order violated the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act and prohibited state Attorney General Ken Paxton from suing school districts that have implemented mask mandates.
The nonprofit advocacy group Disabled Rights Texas had argued that Abbott’s ban prohibited accommodations for disabled children particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.
“The spread of COVID-19 poses an even greater risk for children with special health needs,” the judge 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.”
Abbott signed the executive order in July to “ensure that no governmental entity can mandate masks.”
In the months that followed, Abbott and Paxton battled officials who defied the order. In August, the governor threatened to sue any authority that insisted on mandates.
The following month, Paxton announced that he had filed lawsuits against six school districts who had kept the face covering requirement in place.
“Not only are superintendents across Texas openly violating state law, but they are using district resources—that ought to be used for teacher merit raises or other educational benefits—to defend their unlawful political maneuvering,” Paxton said at the time.
“If districts choose to spend their money on legal fees, they must do so knowing that my office is ready and willing to litigate these cases. I have full confidence that the courts will side with the law – not acts of political defiance.”
Kym Davis Rogers, an attorney with Disability Rights Texas, said the judge’s ruling asserted the supremacy of federal law over Abbott’s order.
“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 said.
Abbott had no immediate response to the ruling, while Paxton announced Wednesday evening that his office is “considering all legal avenues”.
Roger suggested that Texas could appeal the ruling to the Fifth US Circuit Court of Appeals, as the state did with its controversial abortion ban earlier this year.
With Post wires