AUSTIN (KXAN) — Fourteen child plaintiffs and their families — including three from Central Texas — have filed the first federal lawsuit against Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath, advocacy group Disability Rights Texas said Wednesday.
The suit alleges the state’s executive order, which prohibits school districts from enforcing mask mandates, puts children with disabilities “at significant risk, is discriminatory, and violates the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the federal Rehabilitation Act.”
According to the lawsuit, the order discriminates against students with disabilities and their rights to public education programs. Several of the plaintiffs, which have varying degrees of disabilities, could be at an increased risk of medical complications and death due to their underlying medical conditions, the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit seeks a federal temporary restraining order which would cease enforcement of the executive order and allow school districts and local public health authorities the ability to freely require masks.
There are 14 anonymous child plaintiffs ranging from seven to 11 years old. Three plaintiffs are from central Texas, including Travis, Hays and Williamson counties.
Austin mom Rebecca McCormick is filing on behalf of her 8-year-old son. He has down syndrome and a history of lung issues. The slightest cold sticks with him for weeks. So McCormick is terrified to send him into a building where unmasked students might easily transfer respiratory illness.
“We want to follow what the CDC is saying and what our pediatrician recommends, and that is for unvaccinated people to be wearing a mask,” McCormick said. “We as a community need to think about how our decisions impact other people and the consequences of those decisions. I believe that masking works and it helps prevent the spread of COVID and save lives.”
When asked for a response to the complaints within the lawsuit, an Abbott spokesperson responded: “Governor Abbott cares deeply about the health and safety of disabled students, as he does for all Texas students. 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.”
The Texas Education Agency refused to comment on pending litigation.
Many parents still side with Governor Abbott’s executive order, saying they have no problem if other children wear masks, just don’t expect everyone to. Jennifer Stevens with the group Eanes Kids First pushed other families to rally for parental-choice.
“We need schools to teach reading, writing, arithmetic. What I don’t need them doing is teaching them things that I should be teaching my children,” Stevens said. “I do believe in freedom and I believe that’s worth fighting for.”
Abbott has faced increased statewide and national scrutiny for his resistance of mandates, especially in light of his recent COVID-19 diagnosis, for which the governor received Regeneron monoclonal antibody treatment, which isn’t available for most patients. Reaction to the news ranged from support, to claims of hypocrisy and full-on Schadenfraude.
“Greg Abbott attended a crowded, maskless indoor political event and now he unfortunately has COVID,” said Texas Democrat Julián Castro, former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. “He’s getting VIP treatment — a third booster shot, Regeneron — unavailable to everyday Texans. It’s the height of hypocrisy for him not to let schools require masks.”
Meanwhile Texas Rep. Diego Bernal tweeted in part: “I don’t wish it [COVID-19] on anyone… I do wish they [Texas Republicans] had that energy when Dems got sick, and for those without access to a fraction of the care the Gov. is getting right now.”
Reach KXAN’s Education Reporter Alex Caprariello by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 512-703-5365, or find him on Twitter and Facebook.