Capitol Correspondence - 08.31.21

DOE’s Office for Civil Rights Opens Investigation Regarding Indoor Masking Bans

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The U.S. Department of Education’s (DOE) Office for Civil Rights opened investigations into Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Utah to determine whether statewide prohibitions on universal indoor masking discriminates against students with disabilities who are at heightened risk for severe illness from COVID-19 by preventing them from safely accessing in-person education.

“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,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. “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 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.” 

The investigations are currently limited to states where the bans are currently being enforced as a result of court orders or other state action. DOE will continue to monitor 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 investigations will explore state compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.