In a statement shared Monday afternoon, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) said the investigations have been launched in an effort to determine whether such statewide prohibitions discriminate against students with disabilities who are at higher risk for severe COVID-19 infections.
OCR officials sent letters to chief state school officers in Iowa, South Carolina, Utah, Tennessee, and Oklahoma detailing how these mask-targeting prohibitions prevent educational facilities from putting in place best practices with regards to health and safety. More specifically, the letters are said to have made special mention of those with underlying medical conditions related to disabilities which may place them at even greater risk of severe illness.
Other states including Florida, Arkansas, Texas, and Arizona have also been in the news as of late for their own mask-averse policies. Those states, however, have not received OCR letters due to the fact that their attempted prohibitions are not being widely enforced amid various court orders.
“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, adding that it’s “simply unacceptable” that state officials are favoring political maneuvering over the safety of students.
Earlier this month, Biden told the Secretary of Education to utilize “all available tools” to make certain students were being given the opportunity to safely attend school in person.
“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,” Cardona said.