Ian Patrick, FISM News
The federal government said they may launch civil rights investigations into possibly the most contentious issue in American schools: mask mandates. The fight over mask mandates has grown in the past few months as some states with Republican governors, such as Florida and Texas, have enforced bans on mask mandates statewide in an effort to mitigate an increasingly intrusive government’s sway in the personal lives of Americans.
Dr. Miguel Cardona, the Secretary of Education, went on Meet the Press to announce that the Department of Education is prepared to launch such investigations, claiming that mask mandate bans amount to discrimination against children:
At the end of the day, when we talk about withholding funds, those who suffer are the students. So we want to make sure that we are communicating with them, but as you noted, we are prepared to launch investigations with our Office for Civil Rights to ensure that all students have access to this fundamental right of education.
Secretary Cardona also said that the federal government has money set aside for schools who wish to oppose a mandate ban. The Secretary said that the money does not have to be approved by that state’s governor, meaning the schools themselves can directly access the funding.
A hallmark case has manifested itself in Florida where two school districts, Broward and Alachua, defied their state law by requiring masks in schools. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis previously signed an executive order which prohibited schools in his state from enforcing a mask mandate and instead left masking decisions up to parents. Masking itself was not outright banned, but a school cannot require its students to wear masks in order to attend in-person learning.
On Friday, Florida responded to these school districts by giving them two days to withdraw their mandates or risk having some of their funding withheld for disobeying a statewide law. The districts have not yet withdrawn their mandates.
President Biden previously clarified that federal funds for districts, such as these two in Florida, would be taken from the American Rescue Plan, which passed through Congress earlier this year largely along party lines:
Let me be clear: We will do everything we can to support local school districts in safely reopening schools. American Rescue Plan funds can be used to backfill the salaries of the brave Florida school board members, superintendents, and other educators keeping our children safe. https://t.co/sDoZHm3MMH
— President Biden (@POTUS) August 20, 2021
Conversely, in other states such as Illinois where some schools are defying their masking mandates for in-person learning, Sec. Cardona said that his department is involving themselves in these situations as well claiming, “We know what works.”