The order is part of an ongoing case between the State of Texas and a group of students with disabilities or fragile immune systems, represented by the advocacy group Disability Rights Texas. The group claims that Governor Greg Abbott’s prohibition on school mask mandates prevents the children from safely going to school.
At first, the group won a victory on November 10 when a district judge ruled against Abbott’s executive order prohibiting mask mandates. Among other reasons, the judge wrote that the American Rescue Plan act, one of three federal COVID-19 relief packages that sent billions to Texas public schools, vests school boards with the authority to set their own health rules.
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals stayed his order today, restoring the effect of Abbott’s mask mandate ban.
“The permanent injunction entered by the district court is STAYED pending further order of the court,” the order reads.
Although Abbott initially required masks last year, he eventually banned city and county mask mandates in March before banning all local government mask mandates, including schools, in May.
However, the flurry of litigation between school districts and the state did not begin until around the time school resumed.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has argued that whatever COVID-19 harm the children might incur cannot be directly, clearly linked to an end to mask mandates.
“Plaintiffs did not plausibly allege a certainly impending risk of COVID-19 infection fairly traceable to the Challenged Orders,” Paxton wrote, referring to Abbott’s orders banning mask mandates.
“Plaintiffs are not the object of the Challenged Orders, and the Challenged Orders did not require them to do (or not do) anything.”
Paxton appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals shortly after the district judge entered his injunction.
A comparison of infection rates between schools with mandates and schools without mandates showed a marginal difference. According to state data, schools with mandates have a COVID-19 positivity rate about one percent lower than schools without mandates.
Data also shows that COVID-19 poses a very small risk of death to children. According to federal data, just 612 of the 773,812 Americans that have died with COVID-19 were under the age of 18. According to state data, 112 Texans have died with COVID-19 before the age of 20, compared to more than 72,000 fatalities in the state overall.
The decision will likely reach the nation’s highest court, but there’s no guarantee the Supreme Court will grant review.
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