The Biden administration warned five states about statewide bans on mask mandates, which demonstrates the administration’s insistence that mask mandates will eventually keep people virus-free. The Department of Education, headed by Miguel Cardona, notified Oklahoma, Iowa, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Utah that their mask mandate bans could violate federal discrimination laws.
Acting assistant secretary for civil rights, Suzanne Goldberg, wrote the letter which outlined the potential federal violations. Goldberg’s letter claimed that the mask mandate bans could be discriminatory because it could prevent students with disabilities from attending regular, in-person classes. According to Goldberg, federal law “includes the right of students with disabilities to receive their education in the regular educational environment, alongside their peers without disabilities, to the maximum extent appropriate to their needs.”
The letter pointed to specific regulations in the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 as supporting evidence. The logic is that if disabled students do not feel safe in school due to lack of mask-wearing, then the statewide bans on mask mandates could be considered discriminatory.
President Joe Biden’s own executive memorandum directed Cardona to make sure that students have an “opportunity to participate and remain in safe full-time, in-person learning without compromising their health or the health of their families or communities.”
The federal government’s threats appear to lack teeth because Cardona admitted to the press that they prefer not to withhold federal funds if a state violated the aforementioned federal laws. Cardona said that the students suffer if federal funds were withheld.
Interestingly enough, not all states which banned mask mandates were notified. The likes of Texas, Florida, and Arizona were not on the original list of states under investigation.
Utah’s state superintendent of public instruction, Sydnee Dickson, told NPR that they disagreed with the Department of Education’s categorization. “While we appreciate [the Office for Civil Rights’] efforts to protect children, specifically students with disabilities,” Dickson said, “We think they have unfairly defined Utah as a state where mask mandates cannot occur. State law places these decisions at the local level with local health departments and locally elected officials. … We look forward to working with OCR to clarify Utah’s position on the issue.”