These Army kids get masks. Lucky them, their school's in Germany. Photo by Bianca Sowders., USAG Ansbach.

That was fast! Last week, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said he would have the Education Department's Office for Civil Rights look into whether state laws banning mask mandates in schools violated federal civil rights laws. Yesterday, the Department of Education announced it has indeed started an investigation into such laws in five states, arguing that the bans on mask mandates could make in-person school attendance riskier for kids with disabilities, denying them the chance to be educated safely.

In a statement, Cardona said his 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. [...] It's simply unacceptable that state leaders are putting politics over the health and education of the students they took an oath to serve.

The bans on mask mandates run counter to the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which says everyone in public schools should wear masks, regardless of whether they've been vaccinated.


It's also a potential violation of the federal law governing kids with disabilities, which protects the right of kids with disabilities to "receive their education in the regular educational environment, alongside their peers without disabilities, to the maximum extent appropriate to their needs." (All the education majors in the room just shouted "Public Law 91-142!" because damn right it was on the test.) If students with a heightened risk of being infected with the coronavirus aren't protected by other students and teachers masking up, that could count as discrimination.

Letters sent to leaders of the five states informed them the agency would look into whether prohibiting mask requirements

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.

If states are found to be in violation of the law, the usual course of action is to reach an agreement to bring the state into compliance, but if that fails, states could face loss of federal education funding.

As the New York Times points out, measures to reduce the risk of infection are kind of a big deal for kids with special medical and developmental needs:

Millions of public school children qualify for special education services that often require hands-on instruction and other services and therapies. And the population has been a priority to get back into classrooms after experiencing steep academic and social setbacks as a result of school closures during the pandemic.

The investigation will focus on five of the states that have banned mask mandates: Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Utah. The other four with such bans — Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, and Texas — won't be investigated yet, since their mask mandate bans aren't being enforced, due to lawsuits or other state action. But the Education Department warned it's keeping an eye on them, too, and "is prepared to take action if state leaders prevent local schools or districts from implementing universal indoor masking in schools or if the current court decisions were to be reversed."

Utah's superintendent of public instruction, Sydnee Dickson, said hey, what are you putting us on that list for, we don't belong on that list, silly!

She said that the state's law left the decision up to local officials, and that several counties had implemented them. She noted that the C.D.C., in March, studied a Utah district as an example of how elementary schools had reopened without significant outbreaks.

After getting letters about the investigation, education officials in Oklahoma and South Carolina sure sounded happy about the development, because education people tend to think keeping kids safe is a good idea.

Joy Hofmeister, Oklahoma's superintendent of public instruction, said in a statement that the State Department of Education planned to cooperate with the investigation. Oklahoma's law against mask mandates "is preventing schools from fulfilling their legal duty to protect and provide all students the opportunity to learn more safely in person," she said.

The South Carolina Department of Education issued a statement that suggested federal investigators will be greeted as liberators, saying the state schools superintendent has "repeatedly implored the legislature to reconsider" its ban on mask requirements, and noting that state education officials are "particularly sensitive to the law's effect on South Carolina's most vulnerable students."

Education officials in Iowa and Tennessee, perhaps very much aware that pro-virus lunatics have been threatening public officials over vaccines and masks, simply said they had received the letters from the Education Department and were reviewing them.

In Iowa and South Carolina, though, elected officials were quick to say they would not bow down to some ridiculous federal tyranny aimed at making sure vulnerable kids can breathe without being put at risk of a deadly infection, presumably because America's Founders believed only the strong should live and the weak should be winnowed.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds claimed that by directing the Education Department to protect kids' health, the Biden administration is out to "pick a political fight," possibly because the states restricting mask orders all happen to be led by Republicans. It's a fair point! Why isn't Biden going after any Democratic governors who refuse to allow mask orders? Like, apart from there not being any.

In a statement, Reynolds proclaimed that "In Iowa, we will continue to support individual liberty over government mandates" with her state's mandate that the virus spread uncontrolled.

And get a viral load of this statement to the press from Brian Symmes, comms director for South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, in which Symmes really waves the bloody respirator. The Education Department's investigation, he claimed, is little more than "another attempt by the Biden administration to force a radical liberal agenda on states and people who disagree with them," because as we all know, only crazed radical liberals think that kids with disabilities should be able to attend school in person without some asshole anti-masker's kid breathing sick all over them. It's all about Freedom, Symmes explained:

Under South Carolina law, anybody who wants to wear a mask — in a school setting or elsewhere — is free to do so, but the governor isn't going to ignore a parent's fundamental right to make health decisions for their children.

As for a children's fundamental right to a public education in an environment where they will be protected from infectious disease, well, nobody said kids had a right to breathe, except federal law, as if that counts for anything.

[NBC News / NYT / Photo: USAG Ansbach, Public Domain.]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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