Blog

Your Education Road Map

Politics K-12®

ESSA. Congress. State chiefs. School spending. Elections. Education Week reporters keep watch on education policy and politics in the nation’s capital and in the states. Read more from this blog.

Federal

Feds to Probe Whether Texas Ban on School Mask Mandates Violates Disability Rights Laws

By Evie Blad — September 21, 2021 2 min read
A staff member holds the door open for kids on the first day of school at Goodwin Frazier Elementary School in New Braunfels, Texas on Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

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.

More on the Fight Over Texas School Mask Rules

Julia Longoria has joined a federal lawsuit by Disability Rights Texas against Texas Governor Greg Abbott over his ban on mask mandates in public schools. Longoria argues that the executive order prevents her child, Juliana, who is medically at-risk, from being able to attend school safely. Juliana Ramirez, 8, a third grader at James Bonham Academy in San Antonio, Texas, has ADHD and severe asthma which puts her at risk of complications from COVID-19.
Julia Longoria has joined a federal lawsuit by Disability Rights Texas against Texas Gov. Greg Abbott over his ban on mask mandates in public schools. Longoria argues that the executive order prevents her child, Juliana, 8, who is medically at risk, from being able to attend school safely.
Julia Robinson for Education Week

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.

School Mask Mandates at a Glance

Events

Classroom Technology Webinar How Pandemic Tech Is (and Is Not) Transforming K-12 Schools
The COVID-19 pandemic—and the resulting rise in virtual learning and big investments in digital learning tools— helped educators propel their technology skills to the next level. Teachers have become more adept at using learning management
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Building Teacher Capacity for Social-Emotional Learning
Set goals that support adult well-being and social-emotional learning: register today!


Content provided by Panorama
Jobs October 2021 Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal California, Florida, and Other States Waiting on Green Light for Their COVID Relief Plans
The list of states with Ed. Dept. approval for their American Rescue Plan blueprints is growing steadily, but two big states aren't on it.
4 min read
Image shows an illustration of money providing relief against coronavirus.
DigitalVision Vectors/iStock/Getty
Federal What Is a School Shooting? Members of Congress Seek a Federal Definition, Reliable Data
A new bill would direct federal departments to track data related to school shootings, a term for which there is no federal definition.
Daniela Altimari, Hartford Courant
4 min read
Police respond to the scene of a shooting at Heritage High School in Newport News, Va., on Saturday Sept. 20, 2021. Newport News police Chief Steve Drew said two students were shot and taken to the hospital and neither injury was thought to be life-threatening. The chief said authorities believe the suspect and victims knew one another but did not provide details.
Police respond to the scene of a shooting at Heritage High School in Newport News, Va., on Saturday Sept. 20, 2021.
John C. Clark/AP Photo
Federal Is the Justice Dept. Silencing Parents or Stepping Up to Protect Educators?
Merrick Garland's move to use the FBI to help protect school officials from violence and harassment has drawn anger and praise.
5 min read
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., speaks during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing to examine Texas's abortion law, Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021 on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., speaks during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing to examine Texas's abortion law, Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021 on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Tom Williams/Pool via AP
Federal Don't Use Federal COVID Aid to Undermine School Mask Rules, U.S. Treasury Tells Governor
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey violated the intent of COVID aid programs by using them to discourage school mask mandates, an agency letter says.
2 min read
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey speaks at the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix on Nov. 30, 2020. A program announced by Arizona's Republican governor last month to give private school vouchers to students whose parents object to school mask requirements has seen a surge of applications, with twice as many either completed or started than can be funded with the $10 million in federal coronavirus relief cash he earmarked for the program.
A program announced by Arizona's Republican Gov. Doug Ducey in September earmarks federal money to give private school vouchers to students whose parents object to public school mask requirements.
Ross D. Franklin/AP