Texas AFT :U.S. Division of Training launches civil rights investigations of states prohibiting masks necessities in colleges

Release date: September 3, 2021 9:48 am
Author: Texas AFT

Last Monday, the Department of Education’s Civil Rights Bureau opened investigations in five states – Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Utah – into statewide bans on wearing masks in schools. The investigation aims to uncover whether this ban discriminates against students with disabilities who are at increased risk of developing serious illness if they contract COVID-19 by denying them safe access to face-to-face classes.

The department declined to investigate Texas and 3 other states that have put state-wide bans on the wear of masks because the bans are currently not being enforced in those states due to ongoing legal disputes. The Department of Education said it is closely monitoring the situation in these four states and will be ready to take action if the ban is enforced.

For the five federal states currently under investigation, the department sent letters to the heads of their state education authorities. These letters state that the ban puts students with disabilities at disproportionate risk and outline how this could prevent schools from complying with their legal obligation not to discriminate against students with disabilities.
Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act 1973, students with disabilities are protected from discrimination and have the right to education in a regular educational setting to the maximum extent possible that suits their needs. Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act 1990 prohibits discrimination against disability by public institutions, including public education systems and institutions. The department collects data from each state education agency to determine if the states studied are violating any of these federal laws.

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