A federal judge has ruled that the state of Texas can’t enforce Gov. Greg Abbott’s ban on masks in schools and can’t sue school districts that require masks as a protection measure against COVID-19.

U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel said in his ruling Wednesday that Abbott’s order violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Texas officials may appeal the ruling, which immediately allows public schools in the state to reimpose mask mandates. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton had already sued more than a dozen districts for defying Abbott’s ban.

Advocacy groups had argued that Abbott’s ban prohibited safety measures for children who are more vulnerable to the virus. The ADA protects disabled students’ access to public education.

“The spread of COVID-19 poses an even greater risk for children with special health needs,” U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel said in his ruling.

“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.”

“We are thankful that school districts can now take the steps necessary to protect these students,” Kym Davis Rogers, an attorney for Disability Rights Texas, which brought the lawsuit, said in a statement. “No student should be forced to make the choice of forfeiting their education or risking their health.”

A federal judge ruled Wednesday that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott cannot keep schools from issuing mask mandates, saying it violates the Americans with Disabilities Act. File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI

Paxton said he’s looking for a way to challenge the judge’s decision.

“I strongly disagree with Judge Yeakel’s opinion barring my office from giving effect to GA-38, which prohibits mask mandates imposed by government entities like school districts,” Paxton tweeted. “My agency is considering all legal avenues to challenge this decision.”

If upheld, Yeakel’s decision could also have an impact on other states. Arizona, Iowa, Florida, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah all have similar bans against requiring masks in public schools.

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