States banning mask mandates could face civil rights probes

Joe Biden
Posted at 7:24 AM, Aug 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-19 08:28:59-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF/AP)  — President Joe Biden has ordered his Education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students.

Biden's order takes aim at several Republican governors, including Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, that have barred schools from mandating masks in the classroom.

Some GOP governors have moved to punish school districts for requiring masks in the classroom, even though the number of children hospitalized with COVID-19 has shot up in many parts of the country.

On Monday, Gov. Lee issued an executive order that effectively strips local school boards of the ability to issue mask mandates to help prevent the spread of the virus among children, by allowing parents to opt their child out of the mandate.

Seven other states have also banned mask mandates in schools.

President Biden says the Education Department must take action to ensure governors and other officials are allowing a safe return to classrooms and “not standing in the way of local leaders making such preparations.”

"The CDC says masks are critical especially for those who are not yet vaccinated, like our children under the age of 12. So let's put politics aside. Let's follow the educators and the scientists who know a lot more about how to teach our children to keep them safe than any politician," Biden said.

Biden directed the Education Department to “assess all available tools” against those policies. In response, the Education Department raised the possibility of using its civil rights arm to push back. The agency says state policies could amount to discrimination if they lead to unsafe conditions that prevent students from attending school.

Metro Nashville, Williamson and Henry Counties continue to have mask mandates in place, despite the governor’s executive order.