Education Department targets mask mandate bans

Masked girl and boy student board yellow school bus
Masked girl and boy student board yellow school bus
David Carpio via Shutterstock

All children have a right to a free public education, but some students with chronic illness cannot attend school during the COVID-19 pandemic unless their classmates wear masks, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

On Monday, the department opened civil rights investigations into five states that have banned mask requirements in schools.

At the end of the last school year, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said schools did not need to require masks indoors anymore. But in July, the agency reversed course and recommended masking at all K-12 schools to mitigate the spread of the delta variant of the coronavirus.

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The five states in the Education Department’s crosshairs—Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Utah—say parents should choose whether their children wear masks.

The Education Department’s announcement noted that it was not including Florida, Arizona and Texas in the investigation “because those states’ bans on universal indoor masking are not currently being enforced as a result of court orders or other state actions.” 

On Friday a Leon County judge blocked enforcement of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order aimed at banning mask mandates.

Dr. Carlee Simon, superintendent of Alachua County Public Schools, said Monday the federal investigation is welcome news: “We’re grateful for the U.S. Department of Education’s continued support of the steps our district and many other districts across the state and nation are taking to protect students and staff. Obviously Florida has not been included in the current investigation because of Friday’s court ruling, but it’s good to know USDOE is prepared to step in if that ruling is overturned.”

Earlier this month a group of Florida parents filed a separate, federal suit arguing that the ban on mask mandates in schools violates the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

—With reporting from Suzette Cook and J.C. Derrick

This story originally appeared in WORLD. © 2021, reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

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