The department’s civil rights office on Tuesday sent a letter to Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath explaining how “OCR is concerned that Texas’ restriction on schools and school districts to put in place masking requirements can prevent Texas schools from meeting their legal obligations not to discriminate on the basis of disability and to provide an equal educational opportunity to students with disabilities who are at increased risk of serious illness from COVID-19. “
Tuesday’s letter notes that the initiation of this type of investigation “does not in any way imply that the OCR has decided whether there has been a violation of a law that the OCR applies” and that “in the During the investigation, the OCR is a neutral investigator, collecting and analyzing relevant evidence from TEA and other sources, as appropriate, before making a decision on this matter. ”
The investigation brings a new layer of scrutiny to Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s ban on school mask warrants, which a number of school districts are challenging. Abbott, a Republican, signed the order in May and defended it despite advice from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommending masks for everyone in schools, regardless of vaccination status.
In a note released Friday, the Texas Education Agency further pointed out that, according to the governor’s executive order, “school systems cannot require students or staff to wear masks.”
“School systems must allow individuals to wear a mask if they choose to do so,” the memo adds. The education agency did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment.
The Education Department announced last month that it had sent letters to public school officials in five states – Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah – advising them of new inquiries being directed into whether their restrictions state mask prevented students with disabilities from “safely returning to in-person education, in violation of federal law.”
At the time, the Civil Rights Office said it had not opened an investigation in states such as Texas and Florida “because those states’ bans on universal indoor masking are no longer valid. not currently enforced as a result of court orders or other state actions, “the agency noted in its Aug. 30 statement, adding that” the Department will continue to monitor these states closely and is ready to take action if state leaders prevent schools or local districts from implementing universal masking inside schools or if current court rulings should be overturned. ”
The department has since launched an investigation in Florida as well.
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