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Education Secretary: Office for Civil Rights May Investigate School Districts That Don’t Enforce Mask Mandates

Students wear facemasks as they attend their first day of school at the St. Lawrence Catholic School in Miami on August 18, 2021. (Photo by CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images)

( – “We have children returning to school. And we’re excited about that, but we have to do everything in our power to keep them safe,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday.

Cardona insisted that masks keep children safe: “You know, we know what works best. And the president made it very clear in his memorandum, we need to do everything in our power at the Department of Education to allow safe reopening of schools.

“And what we’re doing at the agency is working really closely with states, with local districts, and district leaders and our health experts to make sure that the message is clear. We know what works. We shouldn’t be putting students at risk. So yes, we are involving ourselves in conversations with those leaders, with those elected officials, to make sure that student safety is at the top of the list.”

Host Chuck Todd noted that both Cardona and President Biden have indicated that they may use the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights to investigate local defiance of mask mandates “as cases of discrimination if students essentially can’t protect themselves due to these bans on mask mandates.”

“You know, at the end of the day, when we talk about withholding funds, those who suffer are the students,” Cardona said:

So we want to make sure that we’re communicating with them. But as you noted, we are prepared to launch investigations with our Office for Civil Rights to ensure that all students have access to this fundamental right of education.

And it’s sad that we’re talking about this now. We’re going to use our Office for Civil Rights to investigate any claims that come forward to make sure that students’ rights are kept. And we’re also going to ensure that the funds are available to those districts that are doing the right thing to make sure students come in safely.

Withholding funds doesn’t usually work. If anything, it adds insult to injury to these students who are trying to get into the classroom, and to these parents who have told me repeatedly, I just want my children back in school. That’s where they learn best. I’ve spoken to parents of students with disabilities and I’ve spoken to students. I’ve spoken to athletes in the last week and a half, two weeks, in Kansas and New York. They just want to go back to school safely.

Let’s get politics out of the way. Let the educational leaders and health experts make the decisions around how to keep students and staff safe.

Cardona said he’s spoken to school officials in Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis is threatening to cut school board salaries in districts that have instituted mask mandates, against the governor’s order to let parents decide.

Cardona said the federal government “has their back.”

He said those school districts can use federal funds to maintain salaries:

“This was approved by Congress, so they do have access to federal funds that they can draw down at any moment to make sure that schools are opening safely and that our students and staff have the confidence of returning to in-person learning.

“They do not have to get the green light from the governor to use these funds. They’re made available to them. And I called these superintendents personally to let them know that.”

Cardona said the federal government has a very “limited” role in requiring vaccine mandates on college campuses:

“I do support efforts that are being done across the country to require vaccines on college campuses. I do support vaccine mandates in places where they’re requiring staff and students to get it to go back. We don’t have that authority, but I do support those efforts to keep students in school safely and prevent disruptions.”

This content was originally published here.

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