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Administration Decides Strategy Against States on School Masks

Education secretary says Biden has told him to use every power
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 18, 2021 6:25 PM CDT
Updated Aug 18, 2021 6:50 PM CDT
School Mask Fight With States to Invoke Civil Rights
Emily Jeter helps her son Eli, a kindergartener, put a mask Wednesday on before he goes into Jenks East Elementary School in Tulsa.   (Mike Simons/Tulsa World via AP)

(Newser) – Days after demonstrating it had little ability to stop state prohibitions of mask mandates in schools, the Biden administration said it will use its civil rights enforcement authority in the battle. In support of the school districts implementing mandates in spite of the state orders, Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said Wednesday that President Biden told him to use every means to get students safely back in classrooms this fall, the New York Times reports. Several Republican governors have forbidden school districts in their states to require masks be worn. "The president is appalled, as I am, that there are adults who are blind to their blindness," Cardona said, "that there are people who are putting policies in place that are putting students and staff at risk."

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The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or national origin. Students of color, those with disabilities, and low-income students are hurt most by remote learning, educators say. The enforcement power belongs to the Education Department, which could start investigations into whether students are being deprived of their civil rights. Governors have threatened to dock school leaders who require masks, and Cardona last week said federal aid would be made available to make that money up, per US News and World Report. He also sent letters to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on the matter. On Wednesday, he said he'll also write to the governors of Arizona, Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah. "What we’re dealing with now is negligence," Cardona said. (Major Florida school districts are considering defying the govenor.)

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