Texas schools are being investigated by the Department of Education due to a mask mandate ban.
The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) of the United States Department of Education announced Tuesday that it is investigating whether mask mandates in Texas schools are having a negative impact on children with disabilities.
In a letter dated Tuesday to Mike Morah, the Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) commissioner of education, the OCR informed the TEA that it was opening an investigation into whether the agency “may be preventing school districts in the state from considering or meeting the needs of students with disabilities” as a result of a statewide policy prohibiting mask mandates in schools.
Suzanne Goldberg, the Department of Education’s acting assistant secretary for civil rights, signed the letter. The Houston Chronicle obtained a copy of the letter.
According to the Chronicle, Texas has now joined five other states in being investigated by the federal government over its mask mandate legislation.
Students will return to schools for in-person education for the fall 2021 semester, according to Goldberg’s letter, as the United States continues to fight the pandemic. While several states have imposed mask regulations for students, teachers, and school employees, the TEA has enforced a Texas Governor Greg Abbott executive order made earlier this year prohibiting school districts from compelling members of the school community to wear masks.
Last Monday, the TEA restated guidelines it gave in August, signaling that Abbott’s executive order will continue to be enforced.
According to the TEA’s amended guidance, “school systems cannot mandate children or personnel to wear a mask.” While mask demands are not permitted, the agency stated that schools cannot restrict children or staff members from wearing masks if they chose to do so.
Goldberg admitted in the OCR letter that “children with specific underlying medical issues, including those with certain disabilities, are at higher risk than other children for having severe sickness from COVID-19 than other children.”
According to the letter, the TEA’s ban on mask mandates “may be preventing Texas schools from meeting their legal obligations not to discriminate based on disability and from providing an equal educational opportunity to students with disabilities who are at heightened risk of severe illness from COVID-19.”
The OCR stated that their inquiry began “in. This is a condensed version of the information.