The U.S. Department of Education said Monday it will open an investigation into five states that have mask mandate bans, saying that the rules may violate laws protecting students who have disabilities.
The Education Department said in a statement that the statewide bans on universal indoor mask mandates may “discriminate against students with disabilities who are at heightened risk for severe illness from COVID-19 by preventing them from safely accessing in-person education.”
- “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,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona in a statement.
He also said it is “unacceptable that state leaders are putting politics over the health and education of the students they took an oath to serve.”
The department’s Office for Civil Rights sent letters to the chief school state officers for Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Utah, explaining that the indoor mask bans may “prevent school districts from implementing health and safety policies that they determine are necessary to protect students from exposure to COVID-19, including those with underlying medical conditions related to their disability.”
- The department has not started an investigation into Florida, Texas, Arkansas, or Arizona, though, since their bans are not being enforced by court orders or state actions.
According to the Education Department, the investigation will examine if the bans stop those with disabilities from having the right to education or not.
- The department’s Office for Civil Rights said in the letter that it “may be preventing schools…from meeting their legal obligations not to discriminate based on disability and from providing an equal educational opportunity to students with disabilities who are at heightened risk of severe illness from COVID-19.”
Per The New York Times, the Department of Education’s decision fits with the Biden administration’s plan to use federal government power to intervene in states where mask mandates have been banned.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, everyone inside schools should wear masks — no matter if they’re vaccinated or not — to keep people safe from the coronavirus during in-person learning.
There has been a recent example of how the virus can spread when people are not vaccinated and not wearing masks. For example, an unvaccinated teacher reportedly spread the coronavirus to children in her classroom after she removed her mask during class.