Disability Rights of Texas on Tuesday filed the first federal lawsuit against Gov. Greg Abbott and Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath.
The lawsuit is on behalf of 14 child plaintiffs and states that Executive Order GA-38 is discriminatory against disabled students who are at risk. The suit also claims that the order violates the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the federal Rehabilitation Act.
"Students with disabilities need in-person schooling more than other student groups, but they must be able to receive instruction and services safely," said the agency in a statement. "Many of these students have underlying health conditions and are at high risk for illness and even death due to COVID-19."
According to the agency, one of the plaintiffs, J.R., is an 8-year old Bexar County student who needs in-person instruction to succeed in school but is at greater risk for serious illness, hospitalization, and even death if she contracts COVID-19.
“Having to make a choice between my daughter’s education or her life – what kind of choice is that?” said Julia Longoria, J.R.'s mother. “My child has the right to an education and to be safe at school. I shouldn’t have to choose.”
The complaint states that Texas should have to follow the recommendations of public health officials, and states how the Governor's order is a barrier for children with disabilities.
The lawsuit calls for Gov. Abbott, TEA, and the districts named to cease the violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and allow local school districts to require masks as they deem necessary.
“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 COVID, 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, attorney from Winston & Strawn, a pro bono partner of the agency.
Either outcome is a violation of students’ rights under the ADA and Section 504, and both are wholly avoidable.”