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Schools Blocking Mask Mandates Could Face Civil Rights Probes, Official Says

Miguel Cardona, U.S. secretary of education, speaking at a White House press briefing.
Miguel Cardona, U.S. secretary of education, speaking at a White House press briefing.

The Department of Education is preparing its Office of Civil Rights to investigate schools that have blocked school mask mandates and other efforts to try to keep students and educators safe from COVID-19.

Republican-led states like Florida and Texas have imposed rules that say school districts can't impose mask mandates; the Department of Education argues that this could lead to discrimination against some students who cannot attend school because it becomes unsafe for their health.

"We are prepared to launch investigations with our Office for Civil Rights to ensure that all students have access to this fundamental right of education ... We're going to use our Office for Civil Rights to investigate any claims that come forward to make sure that students' rights are kept," Education Secretary Miguel Cardona told NBC's Meet the Press on Sunday.

The news of possible investigations also comes as Republican leaders in Florida recently announced they would start withholding pay for superintendents who didn't reverse their current mask mandate policy.

"We stand ready to assist any district facing repercussions for imposing CDC-recommended COVID-19 prevention strategies that will protect the health and safety of students, educators, and staff," Cardona said in a statement.

This story first appeared in the Morning Edition liveblog.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.