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Biden’s education department to investigate Texas’ mask mandate ban in schools

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Kendall Tietz, DCNF

The Biden administration’s Education Department announced an investigation into the Texas Education Agency Tuesday over its ban on mask mandates for students and staff in schools, according to a letter.

The probe out of the department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) will specifically investigate whether Texas’ ban on mask requirements violated the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, which required schools to meet “their legal obligations not to discriminate based on disability and from providing an equal educational opportunity to students with disabilities,” according to the letter written by Suzanne Goldberg, acting assistant secretary for civil rights to Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath.

“[The] investigation will focus on whether, in light of this policy, students with disabilities who are at heightened risk for severe illness from COVID-19 are prevented from safely returning to in-person education, in violation of Federal law,” Suzanne Goldberg wrote.

The Texas Education Agency updated its public heath guidance on Sept. 17 to clarify that because of the governor’s executive order, “school systems cannot require students or staff to wear a mask.”

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona is currently on a back-to-school tour in the midwest, addressing issues surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I wanted to be very clear that we are going to protect students,” Cardona told U.S. News. “We are going to stand on the side of students, on the side of educators who are protecting students.”

Texas is the latest state the Civil Rights Office is investigating over its ban on mask requirements, along with Florida, Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah.

When the investigation into the first five states was announced on Aug. 3o, the OCR said it would follow other states with similar bans such as Texas, as well as Arizona, Arkansas and Florida, which have moved to restrict mask mandates.

At the time, the announcement outlined that it was not launching investigations into those states since they weren’t currently being enforced due to court orders or state actions.

Cardona told U.S. News that he didn’t have an update on the ongoing investigation announced in August.

“We are going to investigate and we will see where that goes,” he said. “But the message is out there that we will not allow for states to punish leaders who are trying to protect children.”

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