The Department of Education announced Monday that it had opened civil rights investigations into five GOP states with bans on mask mandates in schools to determine if such bans discriminated against students with health conditions and disabilities.
The department’s Office for Civil Rights sent letters to officials in Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah, notifying them that it will be investigating whether students more susceptible to the coronavirus were discriminated against in their states.
"It’s simply unacceptable that state leaders are putting politics over the health and education of the students they took an oath to serve," Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in a statement. "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."
The letters to the five states expressed the OCR's concerns surrounding mask mandate bans preventing schools from "meeting their legal obligations not to discriminate based on disability and from providing an equal educational opportunity to students with disabilities who are at heightened risk of severe illness from COVID-19."
In an Aug. 18 memorandum, President Joe Biden requested that Cardona look into options for holding states with mask mandate restrictions accountable.
"Unfortunately, as we’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," Biden said when announcing the memo. "Some are even trying to take power away from local educators by banning masks in school."