Gov. Greg Abbott, TEA Commissioner facing first federal lawsuit over ban on school mask mandates

Classroom (Pixabay)

HOUSTON – As Texas students return to school, COVID-19 cases are again surging, threatening to overwhelm hospitals. Public health experts are sounding the alarm over the delta variant of the virus. And, without any state funds for remote learning this year, school districts are rushing to figure out how best to protect their students while grappling with Gov. Greg Abbott’s prohibition against mask mandates in schools. In disregard of the governor’s ban, some school districts in the past week enacted mask mandates, prompting a flurry of back-and-forth legal rulings.

Now, Abbott’s ban on school mask mandates may soon be considered in federal court. Disability Rights Texas filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against Abbott and Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath over Abbott’s executive order prohibiting school districts and charter schools from implementing mask mandates. The complaint stated Abbott’s executive order puts students with disabilities at significant risk, is discriminatory and violates the the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the federal Rehabilitation Act, according to a release from the organization.

RELATED: HISD school board approves superintendent’s mask mandate for upcoming school year

The disability rights group sued Abbott and Morath on behalf of 14 child plaintiffs who have disabilities or chronic diseases. The organization wants a federal judge to approve a restraining order which would temporarily block Abbott’s ban on school mask mandates so school districts and local officials could enact mask requirements as they see fit.

“Under Gov. Abbott’s order, parents of these children face an untenable choice: educate their children at school and expose them to potential severe illness, long(hauler COVID-19), and even death or keep their children home, where they will receive a fraction of their education in one of the least integrated settings available with limited-to-no-exposure to non-disabled peers,” said Tom Melsheimer, an attorney from Winston & Strawn, the organization’s pro bono partner. “Either outcome is a violation of students’ rights under the ADA and Section 504, and both are wholly avoidable.”

RELATED: Which Houston-area school districts will require face masks? Check your child’s district here.

KPRC 2 reached out to the Texas Education Agency for a response to the lawsuit. Representatives for the organization said the agency would not comment on pending litigation.

“Gov. Abbott cares deeply about the health and safety of disabled students, as he does for all Texas students,” the governor’s office stated in response to KPRC 2′s request for comment. “Since his accident that left him paralyzed, the governor has worked throughout his career to protect the rights of all those with disabilities in Texas.”

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About the Author:

Briana Zamora-Nipper joined the KPRC 2 digital team in 2019. When she’s not hard at work in the KPRC 2 newsroom, you can find Bri drinking away her hard earned wages at JuiceLand, running around Hermann Park, listening to crime podcasts or ransacking the magazine stand at Barnes & Noble.