The Education Department on Monday announced it has launched investigations into policies banning mask mandates in schools in Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennesse and Utah. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo
Aug. 30 (UPI) -- The Education Department on Monday announced investigations into five states that have imposed policies prohibiting schools from imposing mask mandates.
The Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights said Monday it sent letters to the chief state school officers of Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennesse and Utah informing them of the investigation into whether the policies discriminate against students with disabilities and health vulnerabilities who face a heightened risk of COVID-19 infection.
"The Department has heard from parents from across the country -- particularly parents of students with disabilities and with underlying medical conditions -- about how state bans on universal indoor masking are putting their children at risk and preventing them from accessing in-person learning equally," U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said.
In the letters, the OCR expressed concern that state mask restrictions "may be preventing schools from meeting their legal obligations not to discriminate based on disability and from providing an equal educational opportunity to students with disabilities."
"National data also show that children with some underlying medical conditions, including those with certain disabilities, are at higher risk than other children for experiencing severe illness from COVID-19," Acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Suzanne Goldberg wrote in the letters. "At the same time, extensive evidence supports the universal use of mass over the nose and mouth to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission."
The investigations will seek to determine whether the policies violate the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which require schools to provide a free and adequate public education to students with disabilities.
The Education Department did not launch similar investigations in Florida, Texas, Arkansas or Arizona because similar policies in those states have been prevented from being enforced as a result of court orders or other state actions.
However, the department noted it will "continue to closely monitor those states and is prepared to take action if state leaders prevent local schools or districts from implementing universal indoor masking or if the current court decisions were to be reversed."
"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-parson safely this fall," said Cardona.