Biden instructs Education Department to take ‘appropriate’ action against governors who ban school mask mandates

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Miguel Cardona.

Miguel Cardona. Win McNamee/Getty Images

President Biden on Wednesday said his administration will not “stand by” while governors try to “block and intimidate” local officials who have imposed mask mandates at schools, and he has asked Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to use “legal action if appropriate” against those leaders.

Biden did not specifically name any governors, but Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), Gov. Greg Abbott (R-Texas), and Gov. Doug Ducey (R-Ariz.) have all threatened to take measures against school districts that defy their bans against mask mandates, including withholding funding. Still, with the highly contagious Delta variant spreading across the United States, several districts in those states have voted in favor of universal mask mandates. On Wednesday, Miami-Dade County Public Schools in Florida, the fourth-largest district in the U.S., passed a mask mandate, with medical exemptions.

These districts just want to keep their students safe, Biden said, and they are following recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has said wearing a mask helps curb the spread of the coronavirus and anyone over the age of two should wear a face covering while inside school buildings. Biden said he wants Cardona to take “additional steps to protect our children,” and this includes “using all of his oversight authorities and legal action if appropriate against governors who are trying to block and intimidate local schools officials and educators.”

Cardona has sent letters to DeSantis, Abbott, and Ducey, as well as the governors of Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Utah, saying bans on school masking mandates put students at risk and “may infringe upon a school district’s authority to adopt policies to protect students and educators as they develop their safe return to in-person instruction plans required by federal law,” The Washington Post reports. This isn’t about politics, Biden said, but rather “keeping our children safe. It’s about taking on the virus together, united.”

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