The U.S. Department of Education is opening an investigation into whether a ban on mask mandates for schools by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis discriminates against students with disabilities.
The department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) will probe the Florida rule which currently allows parents to decide whether to have their child wear a mask to school.
The investigation was announced in a letter sent to Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran from Suzanne Goldberg, the acting assistant secretary for civil rights for the education department.
“I write to inform you that the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is opening a directed investigation into whether the Florida Department of Education may be preventing school districts in the state from considering or meeting the needs of students with disabilities as a result of Florida’s policy that requires public schools and school districts to allow parents or legal guardians to opt their child out of mask mandates designed to reduce the risk to students and others of contracting COVID-19 in school,” Goldberg wrote.
Goldberg also stated in the letter that the investigation will “focus on whether, in light of this policy, students with disabilities who are at heightened risk for severe illness from COVID-19 are prevented from safely returning to in-person education, in violation of Federal law.
“OCR 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,” Goldberg added in the letter.
On Friday, one day after a Florida state judge ruled against a ban on school mask policies, Florida’s 1st District Court reinstated the stay and upheld DeSantis’ ban preventing rules requiring face coverings from being implemented in schools across the state.