State Masks Bans Face Federal Civil Rights Inquiries – GV Wire

The U.S. Department of Education announced Monday that it is investigating five Republican-led states that have banned masking requirements in schools, saying the guidelines may discriminate against students with disabilities or health conditions.

The Department’s Civil Rights Office sent letters to education chiefs in Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Utah. These states have prevented schools from requiring masks for all students and staff, a move the department says could prevent some students from attending school safely.

“It is simply unacceptable that heads of state should put politics above the health and education of the students for whom they have sworn an oath,” said Education Minister Miguel Cardona in a statement. “The department will fight to protect every student’s right to safe access to personal learning.”

It marks a sharp escalation in the Biden government’s struggle with Republican states saying that wearing masks should be a personal choice. President Joe Biden last week asked Cardona to review possible legal action and prompted the department to investigate whether the guidelines might constitute violations of civil rights.

Government guidelines contradict the CDC recommendations

State guidelines conflict with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommend the wearing of universal masks for students and teachers in the classroom.

Should the investigations reveal that the state mask bans discriminated against students with disabilities, this could lead to sanctions up to and including the loss of federal educational funding.

The department said it has not investigated any other states where court mask bans have been lifted or are not enforced, including Florida, Texas, Arkansas and Arizona. But the agency said it is “closely” monitoring these states and ready to take action if necessary.

The research aims to determine whether state mask bans constitute a violation of the right of students to free public education. The department expresses concerns that the bans in areas with high levels of COVID-19 transmission could discriminate against students at increased risk of serious illness.

The department is conducting investigations at its own discretion and not in response to complaints from parents, but Cardona said families have raised concerns that mask bans could put children with disabilities or health conditions at risk.

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