Archives for category: Science

The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit against the state of South Carolina for its law banning mask mandates, on grounds that such a ban jeopardizes students with disabilities.

The ACLU released the following explanation:

Right now, schools are resuming during yet another pandemic surge. And in some states, instead of working to keep students and teachers safe, lawmakers are deliberately rejecting urgent public health guidance.

One key state to watch is South Carolina, where a budget provision passed this summer that prohibits public school districts from requiring masks.

South Carolina’s law endangers everyone, but particularly targets students with disabilities that put them at higher risk for severe illness, lingering disabilities, or even death due to COVID-19. As a result, lawmakers have effectively excluded students with disabilities from public schools.

That’s why we’re calling on the courts to intervene. This week, we filed a federal lawsuit challenging South Carolina’s ban on mask mandates in schools, on behalf of Disability Rights South Carolina, Able South Carolina, and parents of students with disabilities.

When schools are prohibited from taking reasonable steps to protect the health of their students, the parents of children with disabilities are forced to make an impossible choice: their child’s education, or their health.

And under federal disability rights laws, public schools cannot exclude students with disabilities, nor can they segregate them or offer lesser services by requiring them to learn from home.

Let’s be clear: Schools are obligated to give students with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from a public education. State politicians cannot override federal disability rights laws.

SC’s law flies in the face of public health guidelines from the CDC, from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, from the American Association of Pediatrics, from the American Medical Association, as well as advice from hundreds of physicians and educators across the state. All recommend universal masking.

Refusing to follow public health guidelines disproportionately endangers students with disabilities who have health conditions that make them vulnerable to COVID-19.

Regardless of where you live, what happens in a state like South Carolina – which has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country – impacts all of us. We won’t stop fighting to guard our civil rights and liberties during this pandemic – in all 50 states, D.C., and Puerto Rico.

Please stay tuned for more updates and thanks for all you do.

Suzan Mizner
Pronouns: She, her, hers
Director of the ACLU Disability Rights Program

Jennifer Hall Lee, a member of the Pasadena Unified School District board, wrote recently about the importance of of “high-functioning” school boards where members work together toward common goals and avoid partisan politics.

Case in point: the PUSD board has a higher standard for vaccinations than the state. At a time when many school boards have been split by partisan battles, it is good to hear of a school board that prioritized the public health of students and staff over politics.

She wrote:

Only the Governor of California has authority over the PUSD School Board, and on August 11, Governor Newsom announced. “California Department of Public Health (CDPH) today issued a new public health order requiring all school staff to either show proof of full vaccination or be tested at least once per week.” He is requiring proof of vaccination or, for the unvaccinated, to be tested at least once per week.

The Governor’s plan on testing is less robust than the plan the PUSD is already acting upon: PUSD has a stronger testing plan for students.

  • Because of our strong relationship with the City of Pasadena Department of Public Health and Dr. Ying-Ying Goh, PUSD was among the first districts in our area to offer vaccinations to all teachers, staff, students and family members.
  • 96% of PUSD staff and teachers are already vaccinated: 1,320 through PUSD-run clinics, and another 800 through appointments at clinics at Huntington Hospitalthrough a partnership with Pasadena Public Health.
  • On August 5, the PUSD School Board had affirmed the goals of the Superintendent, Dr. Brian McDonald, Ed. D.: attestation of vaccines among staff and mandatory testing of all staff and teachers.

The University of Virginia adopted a vaccination mandate. Of its 27,000 students, 238 students were “disenrolled” because they didn’t get vaccinated. About 96.6% are vaccinated. A small number of students (1.3%) received medical or religious exemptions and are required to wear a mask and get tested regularly.

A university spokesman said:

“If you’re unvaccinated, we ask that you wear a mask at all times — indoors or outdoors — whenever you’re around people,” said Coy. “Anyone unvaccinated and has an exemption will have to test once a week, we’re starting once a week: That might go up.”

News flash: We are in the midst of a deadly, once-in-a-century pandemic. More than 600,000 Americans have died a horrible death, gasping for breath in a crowded hospital room with no family member there to comfort them, no family member to hold their hand as they die.

Yet, there are millions of people who refuse to be vaccinated and who vigorously protest any effort to mandate masks or vaccinations. They try to intimidate those who disagree with them, and even when they are a minority, they often succeed by their bullying tactics. Even when they are a majority, should their right to be free of masks and vaccinations take precedence over the rights of other parents who want their children to be safe from a deadly virus? I think not.


The Los Angeles Times reported stories that could easily be replicated in many other school districts:

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently urged the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to authorize COVID-19 vaccines for children under 12 as the Delta variant “created a new and pressing risk to children and adolescents across this country.”

But differences of opinion have led to aggressive confrontations at some school board meetings.

In Asheville, N.C., a few dozen parents opposing Buncombe County Board of Education’s mask mandate forced the board on Aug. 5 to call a recess, then “overthrew” the board and declared themselves the new leaders of the county’s public education system.

In Franklin, Tenn., a crowd of angry parents shouted, “We will not comply!” at a board meeting Tuesday and threatened public health officials who supported mask mandates.

Britt Maxwell, 43, a parent and internist who treats COVID-19 patients in Nashville, was left shaken after attending the board of education meeting in Franklin and finding that those who supported wearing masks were outnumbered about 10 to 1 by a raucous crowd of anti-maskers.

Maxwell said a mask mandate in Williamson County elementary schools was a no-brainer with Delta surging. His two children, ages 7 and 11, are not vaccinated. “The facts are clear,” Maxwell said in an interview. “This isn’t hypothetical. Children are getting sick, now more than ever, and hospitals all across the South … are being stretched to the limit.”

He and other healthcare workers were booed by a crowd that chanted, “No more masks,” and carried signs reading, “Your fear does not take away my freedom” and “Let kids be kids. No mask mandates.”

As Maxwell and his wife left the meeting, a woman called him a traitor.

“My colleagues came with facts and statistics; nobody wanted to hear that,” he said. “They treated us like the enemy and that couldn’t be further from the truth. We were there for the same reason as them — we want to protect the children, including their children.”

In Texas, a federally authorized organization filed a federal lawsuit to block Governor Greg Abbott’s ban on masking mandates. Abbott has repeatedly said that the decision to wear a mask should be made by parents, not by school boards.

CONTACT:
Edie Surtees, Communications Director
esurtees@drtx.org
512-407-2739

First Federal Lawsuit Challenging Mask Mandate Ban Filed Against Texas Governor and TEA Commissioner Says It Violates ADA, Section 504

AUSTIN—Today, Disability Rights Texas, the federally mandated protection and advocacy agency for Texans with disabilities, and pro bono partners Winston & Strawn LLP filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of 14 child plaintiffs against Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath.

The complaint states that the Governor’s Executive Order GA-38 prohibiting school districts and charter schools from implementing mask mandates is putting students with disabilities at significant risk, is discriminatory, and violates the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the federal Rehabilitation Act.

The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically affected students with disabilities, beginning with the closure of the public school system in the spring of 2020. These students lost critical instruction and services, continuing into the 2020-21 school year. Now, the Delta variant and a surge in cases is threating this school year. Students with disabilities need in-person schooling more than other student groups, but they must be able to receive instruction and services safely. Many of these students have underlying health conditions and are at high risk for illness and even death due to COVID-19.

One of the student plaintiffs, J.R., lives in Bexar County and attends San Antonio ISD. J.R. is eight years old and lives with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, a growth hormone deficiency, and moderate to severe asthma.  Her mother, Julia Longoria, doesn’t get much sleep right now because of the very real worry that her daughter, who needs in-person instruction to succeed in school, is at greater risk of serious illness, hospitalization and even death if she gets the virus. This is a very real possibility if schools are open at full capacity, with optional masking and the current level of community spread. “Having to make a choice between my daughter’s education or her life – what kind of choice is that?” said Ms. Longoria. “My child has the right to an education and to be safe at school. I shouldn’t have to choose.”

This is the first federal lawsuit to challenge the Governor’s Executive Order. The complaint explains how the order is a barrier to public schools for students with disabilities and that no family should be forced to choose between health and their child’s education. It also states that Texas needs to follow the recommendations of public health officials to include the mandated use of masks in areas with significant exposure.

“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. “Either outcome is a violation of students’ rights under the ADA and Section 504, and both are wholly avoidable.”

The lawsuit asks for a temporary restraining order that requires Governor Abbott, TEA, and the districts named to cease violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 and allows local school districts and local public health authorities to require masks for its students and staff as they determine is necessary.

Read the full complaint attached below.

ADDITIONAL STATEMENT ADDED AUGUST 18, 2021:

The case filed on August 17, 2021, has been assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Lee Yeakel. Today, Plaintiffs filed a request for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction enjoining Defendants from prohibiting local school districts from requiring masks for their students and staff. The full motion is attached below along with the original complaint.

The filing includes sworn statements from the parents of the young plaintiffs with disabilities about their health conditions and risks. It also includes compelling declarations from two medical experts explaining the harm posed to children with serious health conditions in schools not allowed to implement mask mandates with the exploding spread of the Delta variant.

The brief explains that plaintiffs will prevail because it violates federal disability laws to exclude them from school or make them risk their lives to get an education.

Plaintiffs also argue they will succeed because the Governor’s order violates the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, in which Texas districts received over $11 billion dollars in funding so that they can adopt plans for a safe return to in-person instruction.

“The injunction is required to protect the lives of children with disabilities and their basic right to attend school,” said Dustin Rynders, Supervising Attorney with Disability Rights Texas.

# # #

Disability Rights Texas is the federally designated legal protection and advocacy agency (P&A) for people with disabilities in Texas established in 1977. Its mission is to help people with disabilities understand and exercise their rights under the law, ensuring their full and equal participation in society. Visit www.DRTx.org for more information.

CNN reported last night that the Texas Sypreme Court denied Governor Gregg Abbott’s effort to intervene in a court case overruling his decision to block mask mandates.

The Supreme Court of Texas refused Gov. Greg Abbott’s request to intervene Thursday in the case of mask mandates established by several local jurisdictions.

As a result, the lower court ruling allowing school districts to require masks in their schools still stands.

Abbott wanted the Supreme Court to rule quickly, superseding a state court rule that says that unless there is a compelling reason to not do so, a petition for the court to order a government official to take an action must first go to the Texas Court of Appeals, which is the intermediate appellate court, before it can go to the Texas Supreme Court.

President Biden announced that the U.S. Department of Education will take legal action against the eight states that do not permit school districts to require students and staff to wear masks. In so doing, these states put students at risk and violate their right to education.

Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Erica L. Green wrote in the New York Times:

President Biden, escalating his fight with Republican governors who are blocking local school districts from requiring masks to protect against the coronavirus, said Wednesday that his Education Department would use its broad powers — including taking possible legal action — to deter states from barring universal masking in classrooms.

Mr. Biden said he had directed Miguel Cardona, his education secretary, “to take additional steps to protect our children,” including against governors who he said are “setting a dangerous tone” in issuing executive orders banning mask mandates and threatening to penalize school officials who defy them.

“Unfortunately, as you’ve seen throughout this pandemic, some politicians are trying to turn public safety measures — that is, children wearing masks in school — into political disputes for their own political gain,” Mr. Biden said in remarks from the East Room of the White House, adding, “We are not going to sit by as governors try to block and intimidate educators protecting our children.”

Valerie Strauss wrote in the Washington Post about Biden’s announcement:

He did not name any specific governor, but Republican governors Ron DeSantis of Florida, Greg Abbott of Texas and Doug Ducey of Arizona, are among those state leaders who have threatened to withhold funding from districts or take other action against those districts that defy them. In Florida, Miami-Dade County Public Schools, the fourth largest district in the country, on Wednesday passed a universal masking mandate — with only a medical opt-out — as did Hillsborough County Public Schools.

“I’m directing the secretary of education to take additional steps to protect our children,” Biden said. “This includes using all of his oversight authorities and legal action if appropriate against governors who are trying to block and intimidate local schools officials and educators.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said masking is one of the strongest tools that can be taken to protect the spread of the delta variant, which has caused a rise in pediatric coronavirus cases. The agency this summer, in a shift in guidance, recommended everyone over the age of 2 — even those who are vaccinated — wear masks inside school buildings.

In letters to the governors of Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah, Cardona said bans on school masking mandates are putting students at risk and “may infringe upon a school district’s authority to adopt policies to protect students and educators as they develop their safe return to in-person instruction plans required by federal law.”

Cardona, in a Wednesday post on the department’s Homeroom Blog, said the department can investigate any state educational agency whose policies or actions “may infringe on the rights of every student to access public education equally.”

“The department will also receive and respond as appropriate to complaints from the public, including parents, guardians, and others about students who may experience discrimination as a result of states not allowing local school districts to reduce virus transmission risk through masking requirements and other mitigation measures,” he wrote. “As always, the Department’s Office for Civil Rights evaluates allegations of discrimination on a case-by-case basis, looking at the specific facts of each case.

A sign of sanity, common sense, and responsibility: Culver City schools require all eligible students to be vaccinated. Superintendent estimates that about 1 in 20 parents object. Why should their objection override the public health of all students?

The Culver City Unified School District has issued a COVID-19 vaccine requirement for all eligible students — believed to be the first such requirement in California — a move the district superintendent said has the overwhelming support of parents, teachers and staff.
Currently, children 12 and older are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, which remains under emergency use authorization by the Federal Drug Administration. The Culver City requirement has a Nov. 19 deadline, and district officials hope the vaccine will have received full FDA approval by then.


California has ordered all K-12 school employees to be vaccinated or submit to weekly coronavirus testing — and a growing number of school districts, including Los Angeles Unified, are mandating employee vaccines with no testing option. A spokesperson for the state Department of Education said the office is not aware of any other student vaccine mandate among California’s 1,000 school districts.


Culver City Supt. Quoc Tran said the student vaccine mandate was issued after safety protocol discussions with the school board, teacher and employee unions and parents — who agreed that the requirement would help protect their schools as much as possible. The district, which serves 7,100 K-12 students, has 900 employees, who also must be vaccinated. Students go back to school on Thursday.

Governor Ron DeSantis issued an executive order that prohibits school districts from adopting mask mandates for all students and staff, even though Florida hospitals are overflowing withbCOVID patients. DeSantis has presidential aspirations.

The leadership of Miami-Dade County and Broward County have decided to defy DeSantis’ reckless decision and protect their students and staff.

MIAMI – Superintendent Alberto M. Carvalho said he agrees with recommendations by health experts that Miami-Dade County Public Schools implement a face mask mandate with an opt-out medical accommodation starting Aug. 23.

The School Board of Miami-Dade County will discuss and finalize on the issue when they meet at 11 a.m. on Wednesday.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools students start the 2021-22 school year in a week. New teachers had to report on Aug. 11 and the first regular teacher planning is on Wednesday.

Given the evidence on vaccine breakthrough cases, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status on July 27.

According to the CDC, the level of transmissibility remains high in Miami-Dade. The Aug. 6-12 case positivity rate was 20.3% in Miami-Dade, according to the Florida Department of Health. The Delta variant is the main driver of the ongoing COVID surge.

Broward County Public Schools will begin the new 2021-22 school year on Aug. 18 with a face mask mandate. School Board of Broward County members first approved a universal face mask mandate on July 28.

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an executive order on July 30 to protect parents’ freedom to opt-out from school districts’ face mask mandates and tasked the Florida Department of Education with enforcing the order….

As you know, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis issued an executive order barring school districts from adopting mask mandates. Every family should make it’s own decision, he has said. As schools open, the disastrous results of this reckless policy are becoming clear.

AFT President Randi Weingarten tweeted yesterday:

“Just heard….nearly 5600 Hillsborough County students in quarantine…. As a result, Hillsborough is calling an Emergency School Board meeting on Wed. This is the result of the recklessness by DeSantis….why is he banning mass mandates in schools?”

In Tampa Bay, hundreds of cases of coronavirus were reported in the first week of school.


Even though classes just started last week, schools in the greater Tampa Bay region have already seen hundreds of students and staff test positive for coronavirus, and thousands of people are isolating due to exposure or illness.

The numbers were generally between 10 times to 20 higher than the cases that were counted in the first week of school last year, and in Sarasota, school board chair Shirley Brown said the numbers reflected on district dashboards are far below the actual case count.

“It’s actually worse than what our dashboard shows because we are having trouble keeping up with data entry,” Brown said in an email to WUSF Sunday night.

By Sunday, 261 students in Sarasota County schools had tested positive in the first week. According to the school district’s COVID dashboard, 194 students were in isolation on Sunday.

A case count of 261 is already more than 20 times higher than last year, in a district that contains about 45,000 students. The Sarasota Herald Tribune reported there were just 10 cases of COVID in the county’s schools the first two weeks last year. But Brown said that’s not even the full picture

The Florida Education Association is tracking cases statewide, and said 4,148 Florida Pre-K-12 students and staff have tested positive for coronavirus since Aug. 1.

Three children in Florida and 15 educations have died from COVID-19 since July, according to the Southeast’s largest labor union.

The families of those who died should sue those responsible for making it illegal to enact scientifically-based mitigation measures, including masks and vaccinations.