The Department of Education under the Biden administration has now opened investigations into a number of states so that they can determine if they are violating the civil rights of students with disabilities with their school masking policies. It is the department’s civil rights office that is leading the investigations. They are focusing on indoor mask-mandate prohibitions and whether or not these prohibitions keep students with a “heightened” risk of severe COVID-19 from attending their schools in person.
There are five states that are under the federal microscope including Oklahoma, Tennessee, Iowa, South Carolina, and Utah.
Miguel Cardona, the Secretary of Education, said in a statement: “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 continued with, “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.”
There is an increasing number of state governments throughout the country that have moved towards curbing mask mandates. But President Joe Biden has promised to do what he can to make sure local school districts have all the authority they need to pursue these mandates.
The president said in a statement to The New York Times earlier this month, “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.” He added, “We are not going to sit by as governors try to block and intimidate educators protecting our children.”
This new investigation serves as a formal warning from the Biden administration to state officials. If they pursue anti-mask mandate policies, they may be causing school districts to discriminate on the basis of disability. This means that 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.”
Kim Reynolds, the Republican governor of Iowa, accused President Biden of picking a fight so that people will be distracted 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.
The Republican governor continued, “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.”
The civil rights office within the Department of Education will apparently serve as a “neutral fact-finder” before it determines whether or not it believes the law has been violated. The office maintains that it will monitor several states, including Florida, for potential investigations. But, the administration has not opened investigations into those states because state actions and court rulings have temporarily blocked their advance.
The Education Department’s decision was challenged by Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina. She is the top Republican on the House Education Committee, and she said this move was politically driven overreach.
“It is inappropriate for the Office for Civil Rights to spend taxpayer dollars to intimidate states that are responsive to parents’ needs and balance freedom with public health,” she said in a statement. “Biden and his cronies are using the Department of Education as a propaganda tool against states and governors that disagree with them.”