WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights announced today that it will launch investigations into five states whose prohibitions on universal mask mandates in schools may run afoul of civil rights laws protecting students with disabilities. The National Education Association, the nation’s largest and most powerful union representing 3 million educators, applauded the department’s move.
The following statement can be attributed to NEA President Becky Pringle:
“All students — no matter where they come from or where they live — have the right to attend a safe and healthy public school. As a middle school science teacher for more than 30 years, I have said from the beginning of this deadly pandemic that we must follow the science. Face masks have been proven to block or minimize respiratory droplet spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. The bottom line is that masks work by having everyone — who could get or spread COVID-19 — wear them. That’s why the National Education Association has been unequivocally opposed to state and local prohibitions of mask-wearing mandates. We applaud the Education Department’s investigations into states that have prohibited universal mask mandates in schools.
“Forbidding schools from implementing this basic public health measure threatens the safety of our schools and students and stands to undo all of the tremendous progress we’ve made toward opening school buildings for safe and equitable in-person instruction. Concerns about in-person learning without appropriate safety precautions are particularly acute for students at higher risk of illness or death from COVID-19 and in communities of color that have suffered disproportionately during the pandemic. Schools need to be able to help ensure the safety of all students, educators, and their families. Prohibiting mask mandates flies in the face of science, public health, and common sense. The prohibition of mask-wearing mandates prevents school systems from making the best community-minded decisions for their students, including those who are not yet able to be vaccinated or have underlying health conditions.
“Educators and students already have returned to schools and campuses, and they want to stay there — safely. The Biden-Harris administration is making good on its promise to use the federal government’s muscle — from civil rights investigations to legal action — to intervene in states where governors have come out against mask mandates in public schools. We hope these governors will stop choosing partisan politics over protecting students so that we can defeat this deadly virus together and maintain safe in-person teaching and learning.”
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The National Education Association is the nation's largest professional employee organization, representing more than 3 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators, students preparing to become teachers, healthcare workers, and public employees. Learn more at www.nea.org.