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Education Dept. Harasses 5 Red States over Pro-Choice Masking Policies

"The department will fight to protect every student’s right to access in-person learning safely...."

(Headline USA) The Education Department announced Monday that it’s investigating five Republican-led states that have banned mask requirements in schools, claiming the policies could amount to discrimination against students with disabilities or health conditions.

The department’s Office for Civil Rights sent letters to education chiefs in Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah.

Those states have barred schools from requiring masks among all students and staff, a move that the department claimed could prevent some students from safely attending school.

“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.”

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It marks a sharp escalation in the Biden administration’s battle with Republican states that say wearing masks should be a personal choice.

President Joe Biden last week asked Cardona to explore possible legal action, prompting the department to examine whether the policies could amount to civil rights violations.

The state policies conflict with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommends universal mask wearing for students and teachers in the classroom. Those policies, however, have flip-flopped several times since the pandemic first reached US shores around January 2020.

There is little scientific evidence to suggest that students, by and large, pose a serious danger in the transmission of the virus due to their more robust immune systems, nor do they generally suffer serious health consequences from it.

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Only about 0.07% of all COVID deaths are of children. Of those who are at greater risk, due to compromised autoimmune systems or other factors, schools might easily be able to put in place accommodations that would not adversely impact all students.

In fact, forced masking creates problems for other students with disabilities, such as asthma or other respiratory disorders.

If the investigations determine that the state mask bans have discriminated against students with disabilities, it could lead to sanctions including a loss of federal education funding.

The department said it has not opened investigations in other states where mask bans have been overturned by courts or are not being enforced, including in Florida, Texas, Arkansas and Arizona. But the agency said it is “closely monitoring” those states and is prepared to take action if necessary.

The investigations aim to determine whether state mask bans amount to a violation of students’ right to a free, public education. The department is raising concerns that, in areas with high COVID-19 transmissions, the bans could discriminate against students who are at heightened risk for severe illness.

The department is launching the investigations at its own discretion and not in response to complaints from parents, but Cardona said families have raised concerns that mask bans could put children with disabilities or health conditions at risk.

Other families—and many teachers—have been vocal opponents of the federal efforts to mandate vaccines and masks in schools.

Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press

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