The Biden Department of Education has opened investigations into 5 states that have implemented mask mandate bans for schools, looking to see whether the bans violate the rights of students with disabilities to get an equal education with other students.
Specifically, school districts without a mask mandate may be impeding the ability of students with medical conditions that may make them more susceptible to severe COVID-19 to come to school like other students because they will be more at risk for the disease.
The agency’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) sent letters to school officials in Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah about the bans and whether they violate the rights of students.
The schools “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 who are at heightened risk of severe illness from COVID-19,” the letters said.
The OCR will be collecting data from districts in those states over the coming weeks to see if they are violating parts of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Utah has responded to the letter saying that the state has not banned mask mandates at the local level, and that several of its larger districts do have mandates.
Noticably absent from the investigations is Florida, which has just begun to withhold funding from two school districts that defied its mask mandate ban. The state is not withholding all funding from the districts, just the amount of school board member salaries, until the boards comply with its ban.
COVID-19 cases in schools have increased with the surge in the delta variant, which is more transmissible than the original strain of the virus.
Vaccinated adults and children under age 18 are highly unlikely to be hospitalized or to die from the coronavirus, however.
CDC recommends masking in schools
While the CDC has recommended indoor masking for all people ages two and up in schools, some have questioned whether it is necessary to do so when risks for most staff and students are extremely low.
Just last month, the CDC said that fully vaccinated students don’t need masks, but that was before the delta variant began to infect even those who are vaccinated in higher numbers.
Still, if the risk to vaccinated people and unvaccinated children is something like the flu or a bad cold, why are masks being required when they were never required previously during flu season or other such times? Like much of what the CDC says and does, it just doesn’t make sense.