Feds warn Texas and 5 other states they may have discriminated with mask bans

On the coasts, more districts are moving to mandate vaccinations for students and student-athletes
By: | September 22, 2021
Students in Texas' Harlingen ISD wearing masks in their classroom last school year.Students in Texas' Harlingen ISD wearing masks in their classroom last school year.

Add Texas to the list of states now being investigated for civil rights violations over its ban on school mask mandates.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is looking into whether the mask mandate ban prevents school districts from providing in-person instruction to students with disabilities who are at heightened risk for severe illness, Suzanne B. Goldberg, the acting assistant secretary for civil rights, said in a letter to Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath.

“OCR is concerned that Texas’s restriction on schools and school districts from putting masking requirements in place may be preventing schools in Texas from meeting their legal obligations not to discriminate based on disability and from providing an equal educational opportunity to students,” Goldberg wrote.

In August, the office announced it had launched investigations into mask mandate bans in Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah. In September, a judge blocked Iowa’s ban on mask mandates, and several districts quickly required face coverings in their schools.

Investigators will pay particular attention to whether the Texas Education Agency is preventing schools from making individualized assessments about mask use based on COVID conditions in their communities, Goldberg said.

Sending exposed students back to school

Florida, which is not yet facing a civil rights investigation, has been one of the hotspots for countless COVID policy battles between school districts and government officials.

Parents there will now get to decide if students who are asymptomatic should return to school after they’ve been deemed a close contact for COVID exposures, Local10.com reported.

A new state emergency order issued Wednesday says parents can also choose to quarantine asymptomatic kids who are close contacts for up to seven days.

COVID cases have dropped, due in part to the mask mandate in Duval County Public Schools, Dr. Mobeen Rathore, chief of the University of Florida Health’s Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases and Immunology, told News4Jax.com.

Other districts in the Jacksonville region are also reporting declines in COVID cases since the beginning of September, News4Jax.com reported.

Student vaccine mandates spread

Though still uncommon, more districts this week are moving to require student vaccinations. Student-athletes in District of Columbia Public Schools must be fully vaccinated by Nov. 1, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced this week. There is no test-out option.

“Sports are a high-risk activity,” Bowser said. “Requiring athletes to get vaccinated will ensure they not only stay safe but also stay in the classroom and are able to participate in school-based extracurricular athletics.”

The school boards in three Northern California districts—Oakland, Berkeley and Piedmont USDs—were expected to vote on student mask mandates Wednesday night, NBCBayArea.com reported.