As promised, education officials in five states have been informed that a federal investigation has begun into whether their prohibitions on school mask mandates violate civil rights protections. The specific issue is whether students with disabilities or health issues are being discriminated against by not being able to safely return to an environment where the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's coronavirus recommendations are followed, Education Week reports. The Biden administration said earlier this month it would go after laws barring mask mandates by starting civil rights investigations.
Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Utah received letters from the Department of Education. The letters assure the states that no decision has been made on whether any laws have been broken, per CNN. Other states that implemented bans on mask requirements are not being investigated, either because courts have blocked enforcement or the states have suspended the policies on their own. Those states are Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, and Texas. The letters cite evidence that masks reduce COVID-19 transmission. "National data also show that children with some underlying medical conditions, including those with certain disabilities, are at higher risk than other children for experiencing severe illness from COVID-19," they say.
In South Carolina, a spokesman for Gov. Henry McMaster dismissed the move as an attempt by the Biden administration "to force a radical liberal agenda on states," per the State. "Gov. McMaster isn't going to stand for it because he knows that parents—not federal bureaucrats—know what’s best for their children," he said. State education officials responded to the letter with a tweet saying they'd already addressed the effects on students with disabilities with their schools. Two lawsuits against South Carolina's prohibition will be argued before the state Supreme Court on Tuesday. They were filed by the City of Columbia, a school district, parents, and a group that advocates for people with disabilities. (Florida lost in court on its ban.)