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“I Need You to Wear a Mask to Protect My Child”: Mother Sues Texas Gov. Over Mandate Ban in Schools

Web ExclusiveSeptember 22, 2021
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As students and teachers in the United States return to the classroom amid surging cases of the COVID-19 Delta variant, the debate over mask mandates has turned to the schools. The Biden administration’s Department of Education said Tuesday it will investigate whether the Texas Education Agency is violating federal law by barring mask mandates and preventing students with disabilities from safely returning to in-person classes. The DOE has launched similar investigations in Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah. Disability rights concerns are also the focus of lawsuits by parents and civil rights groups around the country, including in Texas. We go to San Antonio to speak with Julia Longoria, whose 8-year-old daughter Juliana has asthma. She has joined other parents in a new federal lawsuit against Texas and Republican Governor Greg Abbott over his executive order banning face mask mandates, which the Texas Education Agency started following Friday.

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Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

As students and teachers in the United States return to the classroom amidst surging cases of the COVID-19 Delta variant, the debate over mask mandates has turned to the schools.

In Fargo, North Dakota, anti-maskers are petitioning to unseat a pediatrician school board member for supporting masks, after she was elected just last year by parents concerned about their kids’ safety during the pandemic.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration’s Department of Education said Tuesday it’ll investigate whether the Texas Education Agency is violating federal law by barring mask mandates and preventing students with disabilities from safely returning to in-person classes. The Department of Education has launched similar investigations in Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah. Disability rights concerns are also the focus of lawsuits by parents and civil rights groups around the country, including in Texas.

And for more, we go to San Antonio to speak with Julia Longoria. Her 8-year-old daughter Juliana has asthma. She’s joined other parents in a new federal lawsuit against Texas and Republican Governor Greg Abbott over his executive order banning face mask mandates, which the Texas Education Agency started following on Friday.

Julia, welcome to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us. Is your daughter Juliana in school today?

JULIA LONGORIA: She is in school today.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about what’s happening.

JULIA LONGORIA: Well, it’s tumultuous. Things are so up in the air. Currently, as of today, her school is requiring masks. Her school district is requiring masks, and they are offering weekly COVID testing. All of that to say that, thankfully, the numbers of positive COVID results have been really low at Juliana’s school. And for that, we’re really, really thankful. But that can change at any minute. The governor has been really aggressive in suing her school district for multiple things, including vaccine mandates and mask mandates. So, at this point, it’s really only — this is why we are involved in this lawsuit, because we need something a lot more concrete to protect our child.

AMY GOODMAN: So, who is helping you, Julia, in filing this lawsuit along with other parents? And what makes yours different from other lawsuits?

JULIA LONGORIA: So, our group of parents is represented by a nonprofit organization called Disability Rights Texas, and they are co-counseled with a law firm, Winston & Strawn. And what makes our lawsuit different is that the lawsuit is filed by individual students with disabilities in federal court. The rest of the lawsuits that have been filed have been on behalf of school districts and on behalf of municipalities in state court.

AMY GOODMAN: So, tell us about Juliana, your 8-year-old. Tell us about the struggle she has, your concerns.

JULIA LONGORIA: So, Juliana is a mighty child. She was born a little bit early and a little bit underweight, and so immediately was — she went into the NICU and has been a fighter ever since. She was diagnosed with asthma at 3 years old and was diagnosed with ADHD in first grade — or, kindergarten, sorry. And she has been receiving services under IDEA through her school — through the school district.

When the pandemic hit, we — I mean, nobody really knew how it was going to affect children. And SAISD went remote and — initially, that first — at the end of that first school year. In the following school year, that was her second grade year, there was a remote option. And because of her asthma, my husband and I decided that we would keep her home. The school modified her IEP to the best of their ability, and we attempted to supplement as best that we could her IEP and to provide her —

AMY GOODMAN: And again, IEP stands for?

JULIA LONGORIA: An Individual Education Plan — Individualized Education Plan. These are the services that are provided for her ADHD under federal law.

Now, she was receiving a lot of these services remotely. But what she has never received services for has been her generalized anxiety disorder, because, for the most part, that’s been pretty well regulated without services in school. But as the pandemic progressed, as she became more and more isolated, as the screen time became prolonged, as she just had less interaction with children, her anxiety just became much greater.

She has a generalized anxiety disorder with OCD features, obsessive compulsive disorder features that are sort of obsessive around germs, which, during a pandemic, you can imagine, are particularly difficult for a 7-year-old. And so she really struggled with her anxiety disorder and sort of developed panic features, and she started to have panic attacks. She started having panic attacks about once a week. She just could not be on the screen for that long. She would tell us, “I just cannot sit through classes remotely anymore.”

AMY GOODMAN: Julia, what do you say to parents who say they should get to decide whether their kids wear masks or not, and that these masks are uncomfortable for the children?

JULIA LONGORIA: Because that’s not how masks work. Masks work by: If I wear a mask, it protects you. If you wear a mask, it protects me. We wear masks to protect each other. So, if you decide not to wear a mask, you’re not deciding not to protect your child; you’re deciding not to protect my child.

AMY GOODMAN: And have you had these kind of conversations? And what happens?

JULIA LONGORIA: I think it’s how we end up at this stage of the pandemic. If we are thinking about only our interests instead of our responsibility to the community, we are not — we’re not making any progress in controlling this pandemic. When we are not thinking about the most vulnerable individuals in our community, we are never going to get this pandemic under control.

AMY GOODMAN: So, finally, as the federal judge prepares to hear your case, what do you expect the outcome will be?

JULIA LONGORIA: I honestly go back and forth daily on this. I’m hopeful that because the Department of Justice is investigating, that that is a positive sign for our case. I am hopeful that justice will prevail for our children

AMY GOODMAN: Julia Longoria, I want to thank you for being with us, parent of 8-year-old Juliana, part of a new federal mask lawsuit against the state of Texas, and specifically against Texas Governor Greg Abbott, arguing Abbott’s executive order banning face masks mandates prevents children with vulnerable health conditions from attending school safely. Thank you so much, Julia. All the best. This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman.

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