AUSTIN, Texas — A federal judge has halted the state of Texas' ban on mask mandates in schools.
U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel ruled Wednesday in Austin that the ban, ordered by Gov. Greg Abbott, violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, a federal law protecting disabled students' access to public education.
The nonprofit advocacy group Disabled Rights Texas argued that Abbott's ban prohibited accommodations for disabled children particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.
Yeakel prohibited Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton from suing school districts that require students to wear masks as a safety measure.
"The spread of COVID-19 poses an even greater risk for children with special health needs," Yeakel said in his ruling, according to the Texas Tribune. "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."
Messages seeking comment from Abbott's and Paxton's offices were not immediately returned Wednesday.
Abbott signed an executive order in late July that banned mandates regarding face coverings in the state. The ruling allowed the state attorney general to fine any entity that issues such a mandate up to $1,000.
In a statement at the time, Abbott said Texas would rely on "personal responsibility" as the state seeks to emerge from the pandemic.
"They have the individual right and responsibility to decide for themselves and their children whether they will wear masks, open their businesses, and engage in leisure activities," he wrote. "Vaccines, which remain in abundant supply, are the most effective defense against the virus, and they will always remain voluntary – never forced – in the State of Texas."
Some districts had already chosen to defy the order by making masks a part of the dress code.