Education Dept. Investigating School Mask Mandate Bans In 5 States

by Valerie Williams
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Biden’s Education Department is investigating five states that banned mask mandates in schools for potential civil rights violations

As several states roll out orders banning mask mandates in schools, President Joe Biden’s Education Department is taking a closer look. The Department is now investigating five states that banned school mask mandates to determine if the policies are discriminating against students with disabilities.

Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah have all passed restrictions on schools mandating masks for students. The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights has now sent letters to the chief state school officials in those states letting them know about the investigations into whether their mask mandate bans are preventing students with disabilities from “safely returning to in-person education, in violation of Federal law.”

I mean, I’m only a lay person who has watched a lot of lawyer stuff on TV but to me, yeah. It must be. If a child is immune-compromised and needs the protection masks on every student and teacher would afford them and cannot attend school if masks aren’t worn, then that child isn’t receiving the public education to which they’re entitled, right? Case dismissed.

If only it were that easy.

Quick note that states like Florida, Arizona, Texas, and Arkansas are also guilty of this kind of ghoulish ban but those states aren’t currently subject to investigation “because those states’ bans on universal indoor masking are not currently being enforced as a result of court orders or other state actions.” Remember a Florida judge smacking down Governor Ron DeSantis’ mask mandate ban? Hopefully, all of the other states follow.

Luckily, for anyone concerned that those states might revert to their mask mandate-banning ways, the Department says they “will continue to closely monitor those states and is prepared to take action if state leaders prevent local schools or districts from implementing universal indoor masking in schools or if the current court decisions were to be reversed.”

In fact, Biden recently asked Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to “assess all available tools” to ensure governors are allowing their state’s students to attend school safely “without compromising their health or the health of their families or communities.” The memo continued stating that this includes “consideration of whether to take steps toward the initiation of possible enforcement actions under applicable laws.”

“I’m directing the secretary of education to take additional steps to protect our children,” Biden said. “This includes using all of his oversight authorities and legal action if appropriate against governors who are trying to block and intimidate local schools officials and educators.”

“The Department has heard from parents from across the country — particularly parents of students with disabilities and with underlying medical conditions — about how state bans on universal indoor masking are putting their children at risk and preventing them from accessing in-person learning equally,” Cardona said in a statement today. “It’s simply unacceptable that state leaders are putting politics over the health and education of the students they took an oath to serve. The Department will fight to protect every student’s right to access in-person learning safely and the rights of local educators to put in place policies that allow all students to return to the classroom full-time in-person safely this fall.”

Let’s hope the investigations yield results quickly so all students can access a public education in as safe a manner as possible amid COVID-19.