The Biden administration’s Department of Education has opened investigations into a handful of states to determine whether they are violating the civil rights of students with disabilities with their school masking policies.
The investigations, headed up by the department’s civil rights office, will look at indoor mask-mandate prohibitions, and whether or not these prohibitions prevent students with a “heightened” risk of severe COVID-19 from attending their schools in person. Five states are under investigation: Oklahoma, Tennessee, Iowa, South Carolina, and Utah.
“It’s simply unacceptable that state leaders are putting politics over the health and education of the students they took an oath to serve,” said Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona in a statement. “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.”
Throughout the country, a number of state governments have taken steps toward curbing mask mandates. But President Joe Biden has vowed to do what he can to ensure local school districts have the authority to pursue such measures.
“Unfortunately, as you’ve seen throughout this pandemic, some politicians are trying to turn public safety measures — that is, children wearing masks in school — into political disputes for their own political gain,” Biden said in remarks earlier this month, according to The New York Times. “We are not going to sit by as governors try to block and intimidate educators protecting our children.”
Now, the Biden administration has formally warned state officials that, by pursuing anti-mask mandate policies, they may be causing school districts to discriminate on the basis of disability. They may also be failing to provide “an equal educational opportunity to students with disabilities who are at heightened risk of severe illness from COVID-19.”
Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds (R-IA), in a statement Monday, accused Biden of picking a fight to distract from his other policies.
“Iowa was able to reopen schools safely and responsibly over a year ago. President Biden and his team know this, yet they’ve decided to pick a political fight with a handful of governors to distract from his own failures – Afghanistan, the border, inflation, and more,” said Reynolds.
“As I’ve said all along, I believe and trust in Iowans to make the best health decisions for themselves and their families. Iowa’s democratically elected legislature endorsed that view as well when they passed a law to support a parent’s right to decide what’s best for their own children. In Iowa, we will continue to support individual liberty over government mandates,” she said.
The Department of Education’s office of civil rights, according to the agency, will serve as a “neutral fact-finder” before it determines whether or not it believes the law has been violated.
The office has also said it will monitor several states, including Florida, for potential investigations. However, the administration has not opened investigations into those states because state actions and court rulings have temporarily blocked them.
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