The Biden administration plans to invoke the Department of Education's civil rights enforcement arm to require the use of masks in schools, The New York Times reports.
Elected officials in several states have opted to make mask mandates illegal, saying the decision should be left to parents despite guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommending a return to universal masking in schools as the delta variant and vaccine hesitancy fueled a summer coronavirus spike.
In Florida, school administrators risk losing state funding if they violate a ban on mask mandates enacted by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis in late July. GOP Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine will not require masks in schools, and South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster (R) said recently that the state could not follow the CDC's updated guidance because a new state law bars schools that receive funds from requiring masks.
In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott, also a Republican, won a court injunction against mask mandates.
''The president is appalled, as I am, that there are adults who are blind to their blindness, that there are people who are putting policies in place that are putting students and staff at risk,'' Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in an interview on Wednesday.
''At the end of the day,'' he said, ''we shouldn't be having this conversation. What we're dealing with now is negligence.''
Cardona said he was spurred to after having conversations with parents of children with autism, respiratory illness or weak immune systems, ''who rely on school for socialization and the important building blocks of learning.''
''I've heard those parents, saying ‘Miguel, because of these policies, my child cannot access their school, I would be putting them in harm's way,'' Cardona said. ''And to me, that goes against a free appropriate public education. That goes against of the fundamental beliefs of educators across the country to protect their students and provide a well-rounded education.''
The department could use the civil rights office to open investigations into districts if there is a potential violation of students' civil rights. It could also review complaints from parents and advocates who say prohibiting mask mandates is a civil rights violation because it could deny a student their right to an education.
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