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As fights over mask-wearing in Texas schools rage on, kids are caught in the middle

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Students in the summer chess program are required to wear masks in class and have the option to wear gloves.
Students in the summer chess program are required to wear masks in class and have the option to wear gloves.

Disputes over masking policies and the state's mask mandate ban are playing out in classrooms and courtrooms across Texas. Multiple lawsuits have been filed against and by the state, and now the federal government is involved.

As the delta variant continues to surge, kids under age 12 are still ineligible for COVID vaccinations. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends universal indoor masking in schools to prevent transmission, but state governors including Texas' Greg Abbott have issued orders that prohibit masks mandates.

Disability Rights Texas suing to block the state's ban — a challenge supported by the U.S. Department of Justice. Lawyers for the organization say breaks federal law by discriminating against students with disabilities and underlying medical conditions who are at increased risk of serious complications or death if they contract COVID-19.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights announced at the end of August that an investigation into Texas' mask mandate ban is underway, which will determine whether it discriminates by preventing students with disabilities from returning safely to in-person education.

What do we know about the spread of coronavirus among unvaccinated kids in Texas schools? Are case numbers lower at campuses where masks are a must?

What do medical experts say is the best course of action to ensure the safety and well-being of in-person students and staff, including those with disabilities and who are immunocompromised?

How has Gov. Abbott responded to allegations that his mask mandate ban discriminates against more vulnerable kids? What happens next in the fight over masking in schools, and what are the implications for the more than 5 million children enrolled in Texas schools?

Guests:

  • Julia  Longoria, parent  involved in the Disability Rights lawsuit
  • Dustin Rynders, supervising attorney of the Education Team at Disability Rights Texas
  • Camille Phillips, Texas Public Radio education reporter
  • Brian Lopez, public education reporter for The Texas Tribune

"The Source" is a live call-in program airing Mondays through Thursdays from 12-1 p.m. Leave a message before the program at (210) 615-8982. During the live show, call 833-877-8255, email thesource@tpr.org or tweet @TPRSource.

*This interview was recorded on Tuesday, October 5.