Texas Legislature Second Special Session: Parents Speak Out in Opposition to HB 141

The Arc of Texas Board Member Maggie Suter of Austin provided written testimony to the House of Representatives Public Education Committee on August 30 in opposition to House Bill 141, which would prohibit face covering mandates in public schools.

Read Maggie’s testimony below.

Thank you very much for the opportunity to provide input on HB 141. My name is Maggie Suter, and I serve on the Board of Directors of 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. I am also the parent of four school-aged children attending public schools in Texas, two of whom were born with developmental disabilities.

The Arc of Texas strongly opposes HB 141 due to the misguided intent of this bill to prohibit face covering mandates for public school students. This legislation is bewildering considering escalating COVID-19 caseloads, increasing hospitalizations, and extreme downward pressure on our health care systems. As of August 27, 2021, there are 303 ICU beds available for critically ill patients among the more than 29 million people in the state of Texas. One need only talk to any physician at any hospital in the state of Texas to hear just how dire the COVID-19 situation is.

This pandemic is also harming 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.

Children with disabilities are disproportionally affected by COVID-19 and often have more serious outcomes. Many children with disabilities have special health care needs due to chronic physical, developmental, behavioral, emotional, and medically complex conditions and are particularly susceptible to the disease’s dangerous variants. It is important that learners with disabilities have access to specialized education services in public schools where they receive the vital supports needed to achieve academic success along with their peers. The most effective way to ensure all students can access in-person learning, including students with disabilities and those under age 12 who are currently ineligible to be vaccinated, is to implement universal indoor masking.

In-person learning is particularly important for this population of students, as witnessed last year. Virtual learning was ineffective for most students with disabilities and regression of skills was devastating for many children. I witnessed this with my own children. Without access to hands-on, in-person instruction from specialists like speech pathologists and physical therapists, it was nearly impossible to follow individualized education plans. We must do all we can to preserve in-person learning safely.

The CDC recommends universal indoor masking by all students, teachers, staff, and visitors to grades K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status, due to the high transmissibility of the Delta variant, which is circulating in communities across Texas. Masks can help limit exposure and prevent spreading the disease to others. They are a commonsense measure that provide protection against a disease that is ravaging our state.

It is our sacred duty to protect our children during this deadly pandemic. It is also incumbent upon us to take up measures that will protect all of us in the future should an even more dangerous illness emerge and alter our way of life again – the way we interact, our ability to visit our loved ones and send our children to school, our economic stability, and mostly importantly, our collective health security.

Thank you for this opportunity to provide testimony. It is my hope that you will thoughtfully consider my input as a parent of children with disabilities, President-elect of the Board of Directors of The Arc of Texas Board, and former public school educator.