The U.S. Department of Education (U.S. DOE) announced it is investigating state laws across the country pertaining to mask mandate bans. The states subject to investigation are Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Utah. Notably, Florida was not included in the list regarding the initial investigation, but could be added depending on the outcome of the legal process related to the DeSantis order disallowing mask mandates in schools.
Most recently, a judge in Leon County ruled DeSantis’ mask mandate ban is unconstitutional and unenforceable. Circuit Judge John C. Cooper said the school boards have the ability to limit rights when the good of others could be jeopardized.
Cooper used the example of shouting “fire” in a crowded theater.
“We don’t have that right because exercising the right in that way is harmful or potentially harmful to other people,” Cooper said. He continued by saying the law “is full of examples of rights that are limited (when) the good of others … would be adversely affected by those rights.”
U.S. DOE Secretary Miguel Cardona said it is “unacceptable” states would impose a mask mandate ban.
“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,” Cardona said. “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 has previously gotten into a political back-and-forth with DeSantis. When DeSantis threatened to withhold salaries or funds from rogue school boards imposing a mask mandate, Cardona called some of the Florida officials to extend the U.S. DOE’s support.
“I have had the conversations with superintendents,” Cardona said. “And they have asked, if this goes in that direction, how do we get support? My message is, open the schools safely; we got your back.”
In response to Cooper striking part of state law, DeSantis has said they are going to appeal the decision.
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Grant Holcomb is a reporter at the Florida Capital Star and the Star News Network. Follow Grant on Twitter and direct message tips.
Photo “Ron DeSantis” by Gage Skidmore. CC BY-SA 2.0. Background Photo “Masked Students in Class” by Polk County Public Schools.