Texas Legislature Second Special Session: HB 141 Mask Mandate Prohibition Dangerous to Students with IDD

The Arc of Texas Board Member Julie Ross of the Dallas area provided written testimony to the Texas House of Representatives Public Education Committee
in opposition to House Bill 141, which would have prohibited face coverings in public schools.

Read Julie’s testimony below.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide input on HB 141. My name is Julie Ross, and I serve as a board member and chair of the Public Policy & Advocacy Committee for The Arc of Texas. The Arc of Texas promotes, protects, and advocates for the human rights and self-determination of Texans with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). This includes children with disabilities attending public schools across the state.

Both of my daughters attend school in Dallas. Thankfully, Zola, age 12 is vaccinated but as we’ve seen, even vaccinated individuals can contract COVID. Niko, aged 9, is too young to be eligible for vaccination. This is critical because Niko has Down syndrome, a developmental disability, as well as congenital heart disease, occasional hypertension, and auto-immune disorder. The threat that COVID poses for children like my daughter Niko is terrifying.

For the sake of Niko’s health, I take every precaution; limiting social interactions, avoiding restaurants, and masking up everywhere we go to avoid exposure to COVID. Every highly contagious virus poses a threat to children with chronic illness and disabilities, but COVID is even more deadly. Just last month Niko contracted a seasonal virus, RSV. She became seriously ill, dehydrated, and was hospitalized in a closed unit for 10 days at Cook Children’s Hospital in Ft. Worth: Children’s Hospital of Dallas had reached full capacity. At Cooks, she received intensive care, kept alive with oxygen and a NG feeding tube. If you’ve never experienced a child become gravely ill-it is absolute hell to watch your child struggle to eat or drink, gasping for breath, passing out from incessant vomiting, and crying inconsolably by the trauma of every poke, prodding, and invasive intervention.

Those 10 days Niko spent in hospital cost over $49,000, with insurance paying a small portion. That time away from work nearly cost me my new job. For parents like me, we cannot afford to not send my children to school. And we cannot afford for my child to go to the hospital. But most importantly, I cannot afford, nor am I willing to sacrifice my child’s life by sending her to school unmasked and in the company of other maskless persons. No child should have to risk their life in order to receive an education.

If you cannot imagine the terror that parents like myself face every day they send their children to school under these present circumstances where masking in mandatory in our Dallas district, then I beg you to fathom how inexplicably horrific the suggestion that my child would go to school where such sensible, compassionate precautions no longer exist. Every day I send my kids to school wearing masks, I pray they will come home well. Niko’s life, her health, my livelihood, and our safety are at the mercy of my school district, my children’s teachers, her peers, and my government.

I can only imagine that if our Governor was born, as my child was, with a genetic condition and disability present at birth, then he and others who proclaim to protect vulnerable babies and preserve the right to life from conception would extend that dedication into childhood (and better yet, adulthood) as demonstrated by legislation that protects, and does not threaten, disabled Texans’ health and futures. And I could only wish that the bill’s author as well as our Governor was a parent of a child with complex medical needs. Because no parent of a chronically ill or disabled child would ever offer their child up as a sacrificial lamb to win a petty, political game. If this seems like strong language, it is bills like this that will conjure up a mother bear. Politics be damned: no one has the right to endanger my child’s life and health.

Suffice it to say, I strongly oppose HB 141 due to the misguided intent of this bill to prohibit face covering mandates for public school students. This legislation is angrily bewildering considering escalating COVID-19 caseloads, increasing hospitalizations, and extreme downward pressure on our health care systems. This pandemic is causing undeniable, unimaginable harm to our children. During the week ending August 22nd, an average of 46 children were hospitalized due to COVID-19 in Texas each day. This figure is probably an undercount because in July, Texas stopped reporting demographic case data.

Once more: This bill poses the indisputable risk of harm, permanent injury, and death to disabled children. Is my child’s life less valuable than her non-disabled peers? Is her protection only a state concern in the weeks after conception? Are chronically ill and disabled children lesser persons, a calculated collateral human cost to political posturing? Your vote will give me my answer.

Thank you for this opportunity to provide testimony.