Biden Administration Opens Civil Rights Probe Into Florida’s Mask Mandate Ban

A Florida appeals court restored Gov. DeSantis just hours earlier. The U.S. Department of Education announced Friday that it would be investigating Ron DeSanti's ban on local school districts placing mask mandates. It warned that this policy could cause harm to students with disabilities.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis removes his mask as he prepares for a speech at... [+] Hard Rock Stadium testing site in Miami Gardens on May 6, 2020. Getty Images

The Key Facts

DOEs Office for Civil Rights sent a Friday letter to Richard Corcoran, the state Education Commissioner. It stated that Florida's policy requiring school districts to allow parents to opt their children out from mask-wearing rules could be in violation of federal anti-discrimination laws. This would make it more difficult for schools to protect students at high risk for Covid-19. DOE stated that it has not yet concluded Florida's policy to be illegal and promised to act neutrally as a factfinder in its investigation. After a lower court's decision to block the mask mandate ban, Florida's 1st District Court of Appeal stopped it from being disclosed, the investigation was made public. The federal government launched similar investigations into five other states that prohibit or severely restrict local mask mandates last month and warned that it could add Florida to its list if the court order removing the state's policy is reversed. Christina Pushaw, DeSantis' press secretary, responded to the federal government investigation by tweeting: Bring It. Forbes reached out to DeSantis Office and the Florida Department of Education to get comment.

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DOE wrote to Florida stating that it could resolve the civil rights investigation through a voluntary agreement. The agency can also revoke federal funds from entities deemed to be in violation of federal law. However, Secretary Miguel Cardona said last month to NBCs Meet The Press that this approach is not usually successful and will only add insult to injury for these students trying to enter the classroom.

Important Background

Florida banned local mask mandates over the summer, joining several other Republican-controlled states with restrictions on mask-wearing rules. DeSantis claimed that the move was to give parents more control over their children's health. However, the policy came as Florida is struggling with a high Covid-19 rate. Critics have rebuffed the move saying it hinders schools from protecting students and conflicts with the CDCs recommendations. After a group parents sued, a local judge stopped the mask mandate ban in August. His decision was automatically stayed. A state appeals court then overturned the ruling. On Wednesday, the judge lifted the stay and blocked the policy again. The stay was reinstated by a state appellate court on Friday. Many local school districts, including large ones in cities like Miami or Orlando, have implemented mask mandates despite Florida's ban. The state threatened to withhold funding for salaries of school board members.


In the past, the Biden administration has been at odds with DeSantis over Covid-19. Florida threatened to pull funding from districts that violate the mask mandate ban. The DOE stated that local districts could fill the gap with federal Covid-19 relief funds. On Thursday, the White House announced that additional funds would be made available to specific school districts.

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Appeals Court Reinstates Gov. DeSantis Ban On Mask Mandates In Florida Schools (Forbes)