Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said Sunday that his department is prepared to use its civil rights division to investigate― the Biden administration’s latest effort to combat anti-mask policies that have enabled the spread of COVID-19’s highly transmissible delta variant. Speaking to Chuck Todd on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Cardona went into detail about his conversation with regarding the idea of using the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights as a way to probe schools that are putting students’ health at risk by banning mask requirements. Todd cited some local districts in Illinois where officials want to . J.B. Pritzker’s statewide mask mandate for schools, to which Cardona replied: “We know what works best.”
“We are prepared towith our Office for Civil Rights to ensure that all students have access to this fundamental right of education. And, sadly, we’re talking about this now,” the secretary said. “We will use our any claims to ensure students’ rights are kept. And we’re also going to ensure that the funds are available to those districts doing the right thing to ensure students come in safely.” The department’s civil rights division could draw on the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which under Section 504 says that students are entitled to a free and appropriate . The office could also cite Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination in public Department could argue a district is doing by preventing some students from protecting their health because other students won’t wear a mask.
Todd asked what the consequences would be if such a civil rights investigation found that atrying to protect themselves from COVID-19. In particular, he asked whether the would deny federal funding to that district. While Cardona did not specifically say the punishment, he shot down the idea of withholding federal funds. “You know, at the end of the day, when we talk about withholding funds, those who suffer are the students. So we want to ensure we’re communicating that with them,” Cardona said. “Withholding funds don’t usually work. If anything, it adds insult to injury to these students trying to get into the classroom and to these parents who have repeatedly told me, ‘I want my . That’s where they learn best.'”
“I’ve spoken to parents of, and I’ve spoken to students. In the and a half, two weeks, I’ve spoken to athletes in Kansas and New York. They want to go back to school safely,” he continued. “Let’s get politics out of the way. Let the educational leaders and health experts decide how to keep students and staff safe.” Many face a dilemma after various Republican governors, particularly in the South, imposed bans on mask mandates, arguing that parents should be able to choose whether their child wears a mask to school. Some districts have sued their governors, and an increasing number are defying bans by instituting their . Hospitalizations climb ― particularly among children, many of whom fall within the age group not yet .
On Wednesday, Biden directed Cardona to support local school districts and superintendents to implementsafety measures. This includes ensuring districts can use federal funds to provide a safe classroom environment in states like Florida, which has threatened to pull state funding and superintendent salaries from . “Congress approved this, so [school districts] have access to federal funds that they can draw down at any moment to ensure that schools are opening safely and that our students and staff have the confidence of returning to in-person learning,” Cardona said Sunday. “They do not have to get the green light from the governor to use these funds. available to them. And I called these superintendents personally to let them know that.”