AUSTIN – Riki Graves would like to send her first grader back to school, where there is a personal exchange with teachers and the opportunity to meet up with friends again and hopefully get to know new ones.
But most importantly, given the resurgence of COVID-19 fueled by the virulent Delta variant, Graves wants to send Juliana back to school as safely as possible. Juliana was born with a life-threatening heart condition and had a transplant when she was only 17 days old. Your immune system is dangerously weakened, said Graves.
And that’s why the mother of two has joined the federal lawsuit filed last week to overturn Governor Greg Abbott’s order prohibiting local school authorities from imposing mask requirements in the classroom.
“Children are dying, intensive care units are full, and our government is doing nothing to protect school children,” said Graves, whose family moved from Corpus Christi to the Houston area so Juliana can be closer to the medical facilities that make her life easier depends.
The lawsuit, which also cites the Texas Education Agency and Education Commissioner Mike Morath as defendants, was filed in Austin by the Disability Rights advocacy group on behalf of 14 children with immunocompromised conditions ranging from asthma to cerebral palsy, alleging Abbott’s order against Americans Violates the Disability Act by denying students the opportunity to study in a safe environment.
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“By preventing local institutions from introducing masking requirements for their students and staff in accordance with current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention policies, the actions of Governor Abbott and TEA will prevent and have prevented plaintiffs and other students with disabilities safely return to school for personal instruction without serious risk to their health and safety, “the lawsuit reads.
Several state lawsuits have been filed against Abbott’s mask order, and many are pending appeals. The disability rights group case is the first federal lawsuit to be filed.
More:14 children with disabilities are suing Abbott for lifting mask bans in schools
In its July 29 executive order, which excludes local mask mandates, Abbott said individual Texans should make decisions about how to protect themselves from COVID-19 and not turn to the government for such decisions.
Abbott’s spokeswoman Renae Eze said after the lawsuit was filed that the governor, who has been using a wheelchair since 1984, “cares a lot about the health and safety of disabled students, as he does for all Texas students.”
“Since his accident that paralyzed him, the governor has worked throughout his career to protect the rights of all people with disabilities in Texas,” said Eze.
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However, Graves, a business development specialist at Harris Methodist Hospital in Houston and a vaccination advocate for several nonprofits, said that after a year and a half after a pandemic that killed more people, the wellbeing of children at risk is not being put in place of “personal responsibility.” should be considered to be 630,000 Americans, including about 55,000 Texans.
“This (lawsuit) really applies to all children,” she said.
A report released on August 20 by the American Academy of Pediatrics said that nearly 4.6 million children have tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic was declared in March 2020. More than 180,000 of the cases came in the one-week period prior to the report’s release. The academy announced that this corresponds to a four-fold increase compared to the previous reporting period.
Texas has also seen a dramatic increase in COVID cases among children. The Texas Department of State Health Services said on its website, using data from the TEA, that the cumulative number of positive cases rose from just over 1,000 on Aug. 7 to more than 4,700 a week later. More recent figures are expected on Friday, said the health department.
Children under the age of 12 are not eligible for the currently available COVID vaccinations. Graves said her daughter’s condition – she has had 20 hospitalizations since she was born in April 2014 – precludes her from many childhood vaccinations. Because of this, masking and social distancing are key components in keeping the child as healthy as possible, Graves said.
Juliana also has some learning disabilities, including ADHD, which make distance learning nearly impossible, the mother said.
“It was hard for them to be attentive and get all of the concepts in a virtual format,” said Graves. “In a classroom, she would be able to get a little extra help.”
Juliana turned 7 in April and enjoys an active life with her older brother that would belittle the dire diagnosis she received at birth, Graves said. In fact, the doctors at the time prepared Graves and her husband for the likelihood that Juliana would only live a few more weeks. Finding a suitable infant heart donor is a long way, warned the doctors.
But a donor was found, and Juliana exceeded the slim chances of survival that fate seemed to have given her.
“If you look at her,” said Juliana’s mother, “you will say, ‘Oh my God, she looks like a cute little 7 year old girl.'”
John C. Moritz reports on the government and politics of Texas for the USA Today Network in Austin. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JohnnieMo.
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