Mask Mandate Bans in Five States Probed as Civil Rights Violations

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The Education Department has launched investigations into five states whose prohibitions on universal mask mandates in schools may run afoul of civil rights laws protecting students with disabilities, reports the New York Times. The department’s civil rights head wrote to state education leaders in Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Utah, notifying them that the department’s Office for Civil Rights would determine whether the prohibitions are restricting access for students who are protected under federal law from discrimination based on their disabilities, and are entitled to a free appropriate public education.

The department will specifically look at whether the state bans violate Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which 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.” It will also look at whether statewide prohibitions violate Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which prohibits disability discrimination by public entities, including public education systems and institutions. The department said it has not opened investigations in Florida, Texas, Arkansas, or Arizona because those states’ bans on universal indoor masking are not being enforced in schools due to litigation or other state action.

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