The Justice Department (DoJ) has filed a statement of interest in a case involving disabled students in Texas who say the state’s mask ban is putting them in danger.
“The serious adverse consequences on students with certain disabilities is readily foreseeable. Some parents of children at heightened COVID-19 risk will likely keep their children at home—even though the children could safely attend school if mask protocols could be put in place,” the department said in the filing.
Mask mandates, and bans on them, have split parents, schools and school boards all summer as school board meetings have gotten out of hand across the nation. Additionally, 48 million children under the age of 12 are still not eligible for the vaccine and pediatric COVID-19 patients are rising.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association, more than 200,000 new cases of peratric COVID were reported last week making it the fifth consecutive week that any cases were reported.
The DoJ is following the Department of Education (DoE), which plans on investigating any violation of student’s civil rights by instituting mask bans. The DoE said the investigations will focus on disabled students, who are at a greater risk for severe illness from COVID-19, are being prevented from returning to in-person learning, in violation of federal law.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott ordered a ban on masks in school in May but he also argued in court that he is unable to enforce the ban himself. However, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) was more than happy to help Abbott and ban school systems from requiring masks.
Disability Rights Texas, a protection and advocacy agency for disabled teens, filed a lawsuit on behalf of 14 students against Abbott and the TEA. The suit claims Abbott’s executive order banning masks “putting students with disabilities at significant risk, is discriminatory, and violates the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the federal Rehabilitation Act.”
The DoJ is arguing that the ADA guarantees students with disabilities a “full and equal opportunity to learn alongside their nondisabled peers” and Abbott’s mask ban infringes on their rights.
“Other parents of children at heightened COVID-19 risk—such as parents who cannot be at home during the day—may have no choice but to send their children to school each day, knowing that their children’s health, and even their lives, may be at risk because those in close contact with their children may not be wearing masks and there is nothing the school can do about it,” the DOJ said in a statement.
A New York Times report states a monthly survey on vaccine attitudes by the Kaiser Family Foundation concludes that 58% of parents say that schools should have comprehensive mask requirements. Some 35% say there should be no mask mandate and 4% say only unvaccinated staff and students should wear masks.