The Biden administration is now targeting Florida over its ban on mask mandates in the state’s schools.
Late last month, the Department of Education said it would put five states through the investigative wringer over state laws that ban mask mandates.
A departmental news release said Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah are going to be under the federal civil rights microscope.
At the time, Florida was not enforcing its law, but in a letter dated Friday, the department told the state that Florida’s time had come.
The letter came on the same day that an appeals court ruled the ban on mask mandates, which had been in abeyance pending court action, could be implemented while lawsuits triggered by the ban go through the courts, The Washington Post reported.
The administration of Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said the ruling is instrumental in allowing statewide efforts to support parents to continue.
“Just like last year in the school re-opening litigation, the First District Court of Appeal has reinstated Florida’s ability to protect the freedom for parents to make the best decisions for their children while they make their own ruling on the appeal,” said Taryn Fenske, DeSantis’ communications director, according to Politico. “We look forward to winning the appeal and will continue to fight for parents’ rights.”
According to the Post, DeSantis has said the ban is important because “we should protect the freedoms and statutory rights of students and parents by resting with the parents the decision whether their children should wear masks in school.”
The Florida governor said the initial court decisions against the ban were likely influenced by state politics.
“In the trial courts in Tallahassee, state and federal, we typically lose if there’s a political component to it, but then in the appeals court, we almost always win,” he said, according to The New York Times.
The Education Department claimed that the basis for the investigation is not the Biden administration’s emphasis on masks, but the rights of students with disabilities that it said may have a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 if mask mandates are banned.
The letter claimed that the department’s Office for Civil Rights “is concerned that Florida’s policy requiring public schools and school districts to allow parents to opt their children out of mask mandates may be preventing schools in Florida 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.”
Although the letter follows President Joe Biden’s denunciation of DeSantis for his ban on mask mandates, the letter stated that “opening this directed investigation in no way implies that OCR has decided whether there has been a violation of a law OCR enforces. During the investigation, OCR is a neutral factfinder, collecting and analyzing relevant evidence from the Florida Department of Education and other sources as appropriate prior to reaching a determination in this matter.”
Florida’s law, as it stands, seeks to bring the hammer down on school officials who implement mask mandates.
In a Thursday news release, the Department of Education said it will foot the bill for any fines levied or salaries withheld as a result of the ban.
“Every student across the country deserves the opportunity to return to school in-person safely this fall, and every family should be confident that their school is implementing policies that keep their children safe,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said.
“We should be thanking districts for using proven strategies that will keep schools open and safe, not punishing them. We stand with the dedicated educators doing the right thing to protect their school communities, and this program will allow them to continue that critical work of keeping students safe.”
DeSantis, however, remains committed to the decision to keep masks out of schools.
No surprise here – the 1st DCA has restored the right of parents to make the best decisions for their children.
I will continue to fight for parents’ rights.
— Ron DeSantis (@GovRonDeSantis) September 10, 2021
“No surprise here — the 1st DCA has restored the right of parents to make the best decisions for their children,” the governor tweeted on Friday. “I will continue to fight for parents’ rights.”
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