U.S. Dept. of Education Investigates if Florida's Mask Mandate Ban Hurts Disabled Students

The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) Office for Civil Rights has launched an investigation into whether Florida's ban on mask mandates in schools is violating federal civil rights laws that protect students with disabilities.

The statement said in a statement that the investigation centers around whether or not the Florida Department of Education may be "preventing school districts in the state from considering or meeting the needs of students with disabilities."

The investigation is "a result of Florida's policy that requires public schools and school districts to allow parents or legal guardians to opt their child out of mask mandates designed to reduce the risk to students and others of contracting COVID-19 in school."

On Wednesday, a federal judge listened to arguments from Governor Ron DeSantis' lawyer, who is requesting a dismissal of a lawsuit filed by parents of children with disabilities. The parents sued Florida over DeSantis' executive order that prohibits school districts from making students wear face masks to protect against COVID-19.

Ron DeSantis
The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights has launched an investigation into the ban on mask mandates in Florida school districts. Above, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks at the American Museum of the Cuba Diaspora on July 13, 2021, in Miami, Florida. Getty Images

Miami attorneys Matthew Dietz and Stephanie Langer are currently representing the 12 parents in the lawsuit.

"If students with disabilities cannot go to school safely, then no one can go to school safely," Dietz and Langer stated in the lawsuit, obtained by the Miami Herald.

"Because the governor is attempting to enforce the order and regulations on these districts and the board members, it places my kids in continual danger of the rules changing until he is required to stop. He has accused them of breaking the law," said Dietz.

The parents are suing DeSantis, Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, and the Florida Department of Education, as well as the school boards of Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Alachua, Hillsborough, Orange, Pasco and Volusia counties.

On August 30, the DOE launched similar investigations in Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah into whether indoor mask mandate bans are discriminative toward students with disabilities who are at an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

"The Department has heard from parents from across the country—particularly parents of students with disabilities and with underlying medical conditions—about how state bans on universal indoor masking are putting their children at risk and preventing them from accessing in-person learning equally," U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a press release.

"It's simply unacceptable that state leaders are putting politics over the health and education of the students they took an oath to serve," Cardona added.

Cardona ended his statement by reinforcing that the DOE will fight to protect student's ability to access in-person learning and local educators right to uphold safety policies for all students in the classroom.

The Department of Education stated that they weren't investigating Florida due to "because those states' bans on universal indoor masking are not currently being enforced as a result of court orders or other state actions."

Newsweek reached out to the Department of Education for comment but did not hear back in time for publication.