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AG says 7 counties, 48 school districts mandating masks

August 18, 2021 GMT

Seven counties and 48 school districts have imposed masking and social distancing requirements, the Texas Attorney General’s Office reported Wednesday.

In a statement posted on the Attorney General’s website, three charter schools also were reported as defying Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order that banned local masking and social distancing mandates to prevent the spread of COVID-19, especially the highly contagious delta variant. Most have been notified in writing of their non-compliance, according to the statement.

Meantime, advocates for the rights of the disabled have filed a federal lawsuit challenging Abbott’s order on civil rights grounds.

Most county and school district masking and social distancing mandates involved urban centers and their suburbs, although a handful involved small-town districts. One, the Paris school district in East Texas, said it made its mandate part of its dress code.

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Nueces County and eight school districts — the Fort Worth, Grand Prairie, Coppell and Cedar Hill districts in North Texas, the Dripping Springs, Judson and Killeen districts in Central Texas, and the Fort Bend district in the Houston suburbs — reversed earlier mandates, according to the AG’s statement.

Meantime, the civil rights lawsuit, filed Tuesday in federal court in Austin by Disability Rights Texas on behalf of the families of 14 disabled students, asserted violations of federal anti-discrimination law under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The 14 are children younger than age 12 enrolled in school districts without masking and social distancing mandates. The children have such disabilities as Down syndrome, spina bifida, epilepsy, autism and other underlying medical conditions that pose a heightened risk of serious complications and death if they contract COVID-19, the lawsuit said.

“If school districts are unable to implement COVID-19 protocol as they each deem appropriate, parents of medically vulnerable students will have to decide whether to keep their children at home or risk placing them in an environment that presents a serious risk to their health and safety,” the lawsuit argues. Consequently, Abbott’s order prevents school districts from complying with the ADA and providing students with disabilities access to a public-school education.

The lawsuit seeks a restraining order and injunctions against the Abbott ban.

Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

The rolling seven-day average of daily new COVID-19 cases in Texas is almost 14,500, increasing over the past two weeks by almost 5,300, or almost 54%, according to Johns Hopkins University research data. The 25,104 new cases reported Wednesday by the Texas Department of State Health Services are the most since Jan. 20