Biden administration opens investigation into Texas mask warrant ban in schools

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This is a developing story and will be updated throughout the day.

Federal officials have launched an investigation into Texas’ ban on school mask warrants, delving into the state’s ongoing legal battles to demand face coverings during the ongoing pandemic.

School districts are already fighting Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order banning such warrants in court while Disability Rights Texas, an organization that represents families of disabled students aged 12 and under, has filed a lawsuit in federal court.

Investigators will examine whether the Texas Education Agency “can prevent school districts across the state from considering or meeting the needs of students with disabilities because of Texas policy that prohibits school districts and individual schools from requiring education. ‘use of face masks to reduce the risk of students and others of contracting COVID-19,’ according to a letter sent Tuesday by Suzanne B. Goldberg, acting assistant secretary of the US Department of Education for Civil Rights.

The U.S. Department of Education’s civil rights office opened investigations in Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Utah on Aug. 30 into their mask bans, but did not taken the same action in Texas so far because the state ban has been suspended in courts and is not being enforced.

Corn Update to TEA’s public health guidelines released at the end of last week states that, according to the governor’s decree, school systems “cannot require students or staff to wear a mask.” Agency officials did not immediately return a request for comment.

Earlier this month, Attorney General Ken Paxton sued Richardson ISD and several other school districts in the state over their mask warrants. He celebrated on Twitter that the school districts he was targeting have rescinded their policies.

Superintendents across Texas not only openly violate state law, but they are using district resources – which should be used for teacher merit increases or other educational benefits – to defend their illegal political maneuvers. “Paxton said in a statement. “If districts choose to spend their money on legal fees, they should do so knowing that my office is ready and willing to litigate these cases. “

The bans on school mask warrants place “the policy on student health and education,” Education Secretary Miguel A. Cardona said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics both recommend universal masking in schools, regardless of vaccination status.

Abbott signed an ordinance earlier this year that prohibits any government entity – including public school systems – from requiring masks. Dallas ISD was the first school district in Texas to challenge Abbott and dozens of school systems have since followed suit.

At the time, Superintendent Michael Hinojosa said the warrant was necessary to ensure the safety of students and staff as the highly contagious Delta variant spreads throughout Texas and thousands of young Dallas students remain ineligible for the vaccine.

In August, DISD joined a multi-district lawsuit challenging the governor’s order.

“It’s about the safety of our students, staff and families,” Board Chair Ben Mackey said at a board meeting. “We just need to do what is right, and making our voice heard in this trial is essential for us.”

Federal officials have signaled their intention to challenge the Texas order in recent weeks. A letter from the head of the Office of Special Education Programs suggested that the ban on mask requirements could “have an impact on the provision of appropriate free public education in the least restrictive environment for students with disabilities. and foster a dangerous learning environment ”.

The US Department of Education has warned the Texas Education Agency that the state's ban on mask warrants may harm children with disabilities.

“In this investigation, particular attention will be paid to whether TEA can prevent schools from conducting individualized assessments on mask use so that students with disabilities can attend school and participate in school activities in person.” , in accordance with their right to receive an appropriate audience free of charge. education and to be free from discrimination based on their disability, ”Goldberg wrote.

President Joe Biden last month ordered Cardona to “use all of his oversight and legal action, if any, against governors trying to block and intimidate local school officials” in their efforts to reopen schools safely.

The Federal Ministry of Education has the power to investigate any state education agency whose policies “could undermine” the rights of students to access public education equally, Cardona wrote in a report. blog post.

Cardona warned Abbott and Morath this summer that Texas’ ban on mask warrants could infringe on school district authority.

A new poll from The morning news from Dallas and the University of Texas at Tyler showed that half of all respondents believed masks should be mandatory in all K-12 schools.

Another quarter said the decision should be left to individual school districts. Only 20% of those surveyed opposed the mask requirements. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.

The DMN Education Lab deepens coverage and conversation on pressing education issues critical to the future of North Texas.

The DMN Education Lab is a community-funded journalism initiative, with support from The Beck Group, Bobby and Lottye Lyle, Communities Foundation of Texas, The Dallas Foundation, Dallas Regional Chamber, Deedie Rose, The Meadows Foundation, Solutions Journalism Network , Southern Methodist University and Todd A. Williams Family Foundation. The Dallas Morning News retains full editorial control of Education Lab journalism.


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