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'Forced to choose between health and education': Dallas County parents file suit to end mask mandate ban

The parents want to return to in-person learning with face masks required. Their children faced challenges with virtual learning.

DALLAS COUNTY, Texas — The parents of 12 children in Dallas County filed a lawsuit Monday against Gov. Greg Abbott, asking a court to rule on his ban on mask mandates.

The counter-plaintiffs added to Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins's court filing, asking a district court to rule on whether he can require face coverings and overrule Abbott's ban. Currently, almost all governmental entities can't require face masks under Abbott's order. 

The parents are urging that districts should regain the power to enact mask requirements so children can learn in person again and feel safe. Some of the children connected to the suit have learning disabilities and have faced challenges with virtual learning.

The parents say their children attend Richardson ISD, Coppell ISD, and Dallas ISD.

"My daughter fell into a depression and refused to leave her room most days while participating in virtual learning," one mom said in an affidavit. "She needs the socialization and peer interactions at school."

RELATED: Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins asks court to rule on Gov. Abbott's ban on face mask mandates

Another parent said her daughter's dyslexia "would be best served by in-person dyslexia treatment and instruction in school."

Ryan and Lisa Durr are two parents representing their son in the lawsuit. 

Credit: WFAA
Lisa and Ryan Durr speak with WFAA.

The couple's son is enrolled in Richardson ISD where masks are optional. The boy suffers from dyslexia, neurological issues and was diagnosed with Intractable Epilepsy at 3 years old. 

That rare form of Epilepsy is being treated with immunosuppressants, making him susceptible to the risks of COVID-19. 

He is also not of age to receive a vaccine. 

"We were recently told by a neurologist that a COVID diagnosis would lead to an immediate hospital stay," the couple said in the affidavit. 

The couple also stressed that their son thrives in an in-person learning environment and struggled with the virtual learning curve. 

While he was learning virtually, his teachers and the Durrs noticed he regressed academically and emotionally, the affidavit said. 

The boy was later allowed to have a hybrid model with in-person classes due to the mask mandate at school.

The Durrs said their son attended class during the last eight weeks of the previous school year when COVID cases were dropping. 

Now, decisions are much tougher.

"It felt like the rug was pulled out from under us," Ryan Durr said. "We're being forced to choose between his health and his education." 

Lisa Durr added that few state officials are weighing the lives of students who are medically compromised in Texas. 

"Society has pushed us aside," Lisa Durr said. "I don't think for one second that Gov. Abbott thought about our son or these kids." 

In his filing, Jenkins cites the rise of the delta variant, the start of the school year and the fact there is no vaccine for children. He says local authorities need to be able to require face masks.

The lawyers for the parents say that Abbott doesn't have the authority through the Texas Disaster Act to suspend public school's ability to take care of students.

"His order unlawfully suspends laws and deprives Texas school districts of the power and discretion granted to them by the laws of the State," it says.

The suit asks the court to enact a temporary restraining order against the enforcement of banning mask mandates.

Attorney Jenna Royal is hopeful that a judge grants Jenkins' request for a temporary restraining order first, however, making her case moot. 

"We are the heart and soul of this lawsuit," Royal said. "We are small, but we are mighty. We want the stories of these parents and children to be told. We want them to be heard." 

A judge is likely to rule on Jenkins' request for a temporary restraining order by late Tuesday or early Wednesday. 

"This is a recipe for exploding community transmission of the delta variant as it races through schools and children take it home to their families,” Jenkins's filing says.

On Tuesday afternoon, a Bexar County judge issued a temporary restraining order against the state, allowing public school officials to issue mask-wearing mandates in the San Antonio area.

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