Disability rights concerns prompt Starr County to consider amending order

Starr County is expected to amend their July 16 emergency order delaying in-person school because of the COVID-19 pandemic after a civil rights group complained that it discriminates against people with disabilities.

According to Senior Staff Attorney Rosa Torres with Disability Rights Texas, her organization is aware of six counties that have issued orders on schools resuming instruction. She says three of those counties included provisions that violate Section 504 of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Torres and DRTx want to see those provisions eliminated.

“To the extent permitted under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), and consistent with the procedures required under the federal regulations and state laws implementing IDEA,” reads the portion DRTx opposes in Starr County’s order, “children with special healthcare needs that are considered medically fragile, as determined by a licensed physician, shall not return to school for on-campus, face-to-face instructions until the 2021-2022 school year.”

Starr County Judge Eloy Vera says he agrees the language should be omitted, and says the county is planning to take that step Thursday.

“I don’t know how that language got in there,” he said. “We’re going to be amending that order tomorrow and we’re taking that off.”

Other counties who were sent letters by Torres’ group include El Paso and Cameron counties.

“The language as it is denies these students the same educational opportunities as kids who are not diabled solely on the basis of their disabilities,” she said. “When it comes to educational decisions regarding educational decisions regarding children receiving special education services, the federal law is really clear. It mandates that these decisions are individualized, these decisions are made by a team that includes the parents, and a team that is knowledgeable about the needs of that child.”

Torres said a pandemic is no excuse to deprive people with disabilities of their rights.

“We do understand the health situation, but quite frankly whether it’s COVID-19 or any other circumstance, public officials just cannot issue blanket exclusions for children with disabilities totally on the basis of disability. That is unlawful discrimination, and that’s our concern with these orders,” she said.

If the orders continue to violate regulations, Torres says her group may resort to legal remedies including administrative or federal complaints