The Biden administration is enjoining a legal effort by the ACLU to overturn bans on indoor mask-wearing in schools imposed by five states, claiming that doing so is a violation of some students’ civil rights.
The Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights announced Monday that it has sent letters to the heads of state departments of education in Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Utah, warning that the mask bans may be discriminatory against students with disabilities.
“The letter marks an escalation in the Biden administration’s standoff with Republican states that say wearing masks should be a personal decision and that parents should choose for their children,” Axios reported.
The states have banned mask mandates in their schools, but reports said they have not banned mask-wearing, leaving the decision up to individual parents instead. Florida has also implemented a ban on mask mandates for its schools, though a county judge over the weekend struck down the ban, claiming that the “evidence demonstrates that facemask policies that follow CDC guidance are, at this point in time, reasonable and consistent with the best scientific and medical and public opinion guidance at this time.”
According to Suzanne Goldberg, the acting assistant secretary for civil rights at the Education Department, the probe will center on whether the mask bans “may be preventing schools from making individualized assessments about mask use so that students with disabilities can attend school and participate in school activities in person, consistent with their right to receive a free appropriate public education and to be free from discrimination based on their disability.”
If the state and federal education departments cannot come to an agreement, then “OCR has the authority to take further steps to ensure that a recipient of federal funds complies with its anti-discrimination obligations, including by initiating an enforcement hearing process in front of an administrative law judge in the Department of Education or by referring the matter to the Department of Justice for enforcement,” one federal official within the department told Axios.
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona has called the mask bans “unacceptable.”
“It’s simply unacceptable that state leaders are putting politics over the health and education of the students they took an oath to serve,” he said in a statement. “The department will fight to protect every student’s right to access in-person learning safely.”
For now, the OCR is not launching enforcement investigations into Florida or other states where courts have struck down mask bans, including Arizona, Arkansas, and Texas, but is reserving the right to do so if those rulings are overturned by higher courts.
DeSantis, along with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, have argued that despite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation that kids be masked in school this year as the COVID pandemic lingers, several European countries have decided that masks are not effective mitigators of the virus and instead are harmful to students.
“[C]ontrary to the CDC, many European and developed countries have decided against recommending masks for young children in schools or other public settings,” Fox News reported earlier this month.
“Governor DeSantis seeks the best advice and expertise from all over the world; his detractors simply accept the proclamations of the CDC as though they are infallible,” his spokeswoman, Christina Pushaw, said in a statement to the network. “However, the CDC’s guidance has flip-flopped many times, and U.S. public health authorities have lost the trust of the American people. In other countries, COVID-19 is not as politicized, so it makes sense that the EU is following a more data-driven, pro-child approach.”
Social media users reacted to the Education Department’s claim that mask mandates are civil rights violations with mocking and derision.
“Reminder to take 15-20 mins to stretch before making this large of a reach,” one user wrote.
‘Civil rights’ violation. That’s rich,” another user offered.
“Umm….wouldn’t [sic] the civil rights investigation be if they WERE REQUIRED?” asked another user tweeted.
“They can still wear a mask even when it’s not mandated, there’s nothing stopping people from doing that,” said another.
“It’s infringing of civil rights to NOT make something mandatory? How is making something a personal choice an infringement?” another user asked.
Reminder to take 15-20 mins to stretch before making this large of a reach
— Mean Green Meme Machine (@CliffyTheBig) August 30, 2021
“Civil rights” investigation. That’s rich.
— isaacK (@Sgt_Mendi) August 30, 2021
Umm….wouldnt the civil rights investigation be if they WERE REQUIRED.
— Rick Chappell (@rickc817) August 30, 2021
They can still wear a mask even when it’s not mandated, there’s nothing stopping people from doing that.
— Ricardo Dinero (@RicardoDinero78) August 30, 2021
It’s infringing of civil rights to NOT make something mandatory? How is making something a personal choice an infringement?
— Xtof (@XtofMyself) August 30, 2021
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