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Biden admin probes mask mandate ban in 5 states

US President Joe Biden’s administration announced that it has opened civil rights investigations into bans on mask mandates in five Republican-led states to determine if they discriminate against students with disabilities.

The ban on mask mandates “may be preventing schools from meeting their legal obligations not to discriminate based on disability and from providing an equal educational opportunity to students with disabilities who are at heightened risk of severe illness from Covid-19”, the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) wrote in letters sent to Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah on Monday.

The OCR will collect data from these states’ education departments “over the coming weeks” and examine whether the bans violate parts of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act that forbid discrimination based on a person’s disabilities and that give all students the right to free public schooling, Xinhua news agency reported.

The Office said in a statement that they have not launched probes into Arizona, Arkansas, Florida and Texas because those states are not yet enforcing their policies due to court battles or “other state actions”.

Earlier this month, Biden criticised Republican Governors over the issue, saying these bans were “setting a dangerous tone”.

“This isn’t about politics,” Biden said at the time. “It’s about keeping our children safe. It’s about taking on the virus together, united.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that all people aged 2 and older wear masks indoors at schools.