In a Sept. 10 letter (pdf) to Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, Suzanne Goldberg, the acting assistant secretary for civil rights at the U.S. Department of Education, wrote that Florida’s requirement for school districts to allow parents to opt their children out of mask mandates may violate the civil rights of students with disabilities, who are purportedly at a higher risk to adverse outcomes from COVID-19.
The department’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) in Atlanta will conduct the “directed investigation,” according to the letter.
“OCR’s investigation will focus on whether, in light of this policy, students with disabilities who are at heightened risk for severe illness from COVID-19 are prevented from safely returning to in-person education, in violation of federal law,” Goldberg wrote.
The Epoch Times contacted the office of Gov. Ron DeSantis for comment.
School districts in Florida were briefly free to impose mask mandates after a state court struck down Florida’s restriction on the measures. A higher court sided with DeSantis on Sept. 10 and reinstated the mask mandate restriction. A number of school districts are in open defiance to DeSantis; at least two are bleeding funds as punishment for doing so.
DeSantis issued an executive order on July 30 directing Florida’s departments of health and education to issue emergency rules related to stemming the spread of COVID-19 in schools. The order included a provision requiring school districts that impose mask mandates to allow parents to choose whether their children should wear masks in school.
The U.S. Department of Education inquiry will also look into whether the state’s restriction on mask mandates is preventing Florida from “providing an equal educational opportunity to students with disabilities,” Goldberg wrote.
The question of whether to mandate masks in schools is split neatly among political lines, with most Republicans opposing mandates and most Democrats supporting them. All six of the states with statewide bans on school mask mandates are led by Republican governors. Meanwhile, Democrat governors preside over every one of the more than a dozen states which mandate masks in schools.
The Biden administration has repeatedly stepped into the mask debate, including by promising to repay the Florida schools, which lose state funding as a result of defying the governor and imposing mask mandates.
The U.S. Department of Education on Thursday announced a program that would grant funding to schools that defy their states’ restrictions on mask mandates.
“We should be thanking districts for using proven strategies that will keep schools open and safe, not punishing them,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in a press release.
GQ Pan contributed to this report.