Texas Legislature Second Special Session: The Arc of Texas Opposes HB 141

The Arc of Texas Leadership & Advocacy Coordinator Wendolyn Ward provided written testimony to the House of Representatives Public Education Committee on August 30 in opposition to House Bill 141, which would prohibit public schools from instituting a mask mandate.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide input on HB 141. My name is Wendolyn Ward, and I am the Leadership and Advocacy Coordinator at 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.

We strongly oppose HB 141 due to its misguided intent to prohibit face covering mandates for public school students. This legislation is baffling 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.

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 who have special health care needs due to chronic physical, developmental, behavioral, emotional, and medically complex conditions 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 succeed academically 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.

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.

We must safeguard our children during this deadly pandemic and take up measures that will protect all of us in the future should an even more dangerous disease emerge and alter our way of life again. We cannot afford to waste time on debates that have no scientific merit. Performative politics are not appropriate considering the gravity of this pandemic which has affected how we interact with those we love, how we educate children, our economic stability, and collective health security. Our children are depending on us to do the right thing. We must not let them down.

Thank you for this opportunity to provide testimony.