Texas School Mask Ban Sparks Civil Rights Probe From Biden Admin

Texas School Mask Ban Sparks Civil Rights Probe From Biden Admin a gavel pounds the block with a face mask between them in an illustration (Dreamstime)

By Nick Koutsobinas | Tuesday, 21 September 2021 10:27 PM

The Biden administration has launched a civil rights investigation into whether or not Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's mask ban violates the rights of students with disabilities.

The Education Department's Office for Civil Rights notified Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath in a letter Tuesday it would open a probe into whether or not "students with disabilities who are at heightened risk for severe illness from COVID-19 are prevented from safely returning to in-person education" due to the mask ban.

Suzanne Goldberg, the Education Department's acting assistant secretary for civil rights who signed off on the letter, cites "the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504), which is a federal law" that "protects students with disabilities from discrimination based on their disability."

Goldberg also cites the "Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (Title II), which similarly prohibits disability discrimination by public entities, including public education systems and institutions, regardless of whether they receive federal financial assistance from the department."

According to The Hill, despite concerns from lawmakers, Abbott has continued to tout that decision for a child to be masked or not should ultimately be left up to the parent.

But striking back at school districts promoting their own mask mandates, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton earlier this month filed lawsuits against six school districts that defied the statewide mask ban.

"Not only are superintendents across Texas openly violating state law, but they are using district resources — that ought to be used for teacher merit raises or other educational benefits — to defend their unlawful political maneuvering," Paxton said in a statement.