On Sept. 22, Florida's surgeon general instituted a rule that gives parents and legal guardians "sole discretion" over masking in schools. On Nov. 5, a judge sided with the state health department in a legal challenge to rule. On Nov. 18, Gov. DeSantis signed a bill that allows parents to sue school districts that require masks.
The U.S. Department of Education will investigate whether an executive order by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott that prohibits school districts from requiring masks violates federal civil rights laws, the agency told state officials Tuesday.
Federal officials are concerned that the Texas rule “may be preventing schools in Texas from meeting their legal obligations not to discriminate based on disability and from providing an equal educational opportunity to students with disabilities who are at heightened risk of severe illness from COVID-19,” Acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Suzanne Goldberg wrote in a letter to Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath.
The department’s office for civil rights has previously opened similar investigations in states that ban schools from setting universal masking requirements. It’s part of a more confrontational approach President Joe Biden’s administration has taken with some GOP leaders amid surging cases of the COVID-19 Delta variant.
The Texas probe will determine whether the state is in violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which requires schools to provide a free and adequate public education to students with disabilities.
That argument has been made by parents of children with various medical conditions in lawsuits around the country, including in Texas. Education Week recently spoke to one of the plaintiffs in the Texas lawsuit, a San Antonio mother who said she would fear for the safety of her daughter, who has severe asthma, if she attended school with unmasked classmates.
The San Antonio district is one of several that have defied the state ban. Some have tried to skirt the prohibition by including masks in their dress codes, later facing legal challenges from the state’s attorney general.
Amid legal challenges, the Texas Education Agency previously said the ban on school mask rules was not being enforced. But in updated Sept. 17 guidance, it said that “school systems cannot require students or staff to wear a mask.”
The Biden administration has encouraged local leaders to defy such bans, and it has created a federal grant program to reimburse them for any state financial penalties they may face.
The administration argues universal masking is key to helping schools stay open and ensuring that all students can safely attend. But state leaders like Abbott have called it an issue of personal freedom that is better left to parents to decide.
The Biden administration has launched similar probes in Florida, Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Utah. Such investigations carry the implied threat of the suspension of federal funding, but they are often resolved through voluntary resolution agreements between the Education Department and the party being investigated before the process is complete.
This information is no longer being updated. The last data update was on May 23, 2022.
MASK MANDATE BAN IN EFFECT
MASK MANDATE BAN BLOCKED, SUSPENDED, OR NOT BEING ENFORCED
MASK REQUIREMENT IN EFFECT
PREVIOUSLY HAD MASK REQUIREMENT
In January 2022, the Missouri attorney general, Eric Schmitt, sued some school districts that required masks, citing a November ruling by a county judge that said local health orders tied to COVID-19 were illegal. (The ruling was interpreted differently by different districts.) The state’s treasurer announced he would also crack down on schools with mask mandates. In mid-March, Schmitt began dropping lawsuits against school districts that no longer required masks. On May 19, 2022 Schmitt announced new lawsuits against several districts that had reinstated mask requirements.
On Feb. 23, 2022, New Hampshire’s governor announced the state was no longer recommending universal indoor masking and therefore schools have to end mask mandates, arguing they violate state education department rules. Soon after, the department advised districts that the mandates “are inconsistent with” their rules. There’s disagreement over whether districts still have the authority to require masks, but at least one district changed its policy in response. A bill that would have banned mask mandates was vetoed by Gov. Sununu in May 2022.
Updated 5/23/2022 | Sources: Local media reports, Education Week reporting | Learn more here