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Texas mask mandate ban could violate federal law, US Department of Education warns

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This is a developing story.

The federal office that holds Texas accountable for its problems serving students with disabilities is now questioning the state’s ban on mask warrants.

In another signal that the federal government is ready to embark on a war of masks in Texas public schools, the United States Department of Education warned the Texas Education Agency that the state’s ban on mask warrants could harm children with disabilities. Failure to comply with the Disability Education Act could potentially jeopardize federal funding.

The Governor’s Order “may also have an impact on the provision of appropriate free public education in the least restrictive environment for students with disabilities and foster an unsafe learning environment,” wrote David Cantrell, Acting Director of the department’s office of special education programs. a letter to Education Commissioner Mike Morath on Friday.

Disability Rights Texas has previously raised concerns about the impact of Abbott’s order on students with disabilities. In a federal lawsuit against the state, the advocacy group is representing students under the age of 12 with disabilities and underlying health conditions who are at increased risk of complications or death if they contract coronavirus.

Disability Rights attorneys argue that by banning school districts from requiring students and staff to wear face coverings, Abbott and TEA are preventing students with disabilities from safely returning to school for in-person instruction. A trial is scheduled for early October.

Last week, President Joe Biden called on US Secretary of Education Miguel A. Cardona “to use all of his oversight and legal action, if any, against governors trying to block and d ‘intimidate local school officials’ in their efforts to reopen schools safely.

The Federal Ministry of Education has the power to investigate any state education agency whose policies “could undermine” the rights of students to access public education equally, Cardona wrote in a report. blog post.

Cardona warned Abbott and Morath in mid-August that the Texas ban on mask warrants could infringe on school district authority.

“The CDC has provided clear advice to schools on how to adopt science-based strategies to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” Biden wrote in a note to Cardona. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the use of masks inside schools, regardless of vaccination status.

As per Biden’s direction, Cantrell’s department plans to “follow the TEA on this,” the acting director wrote. It was not clear how the ministry planned to follow up.

The Education Department has previously raised the possibility of using its civil rights arm to enact mask policies in Republican-led states, including Texas and Florida, which prohibit schools from requiring covers. – faces.

The agency can launch its own investigations into potential violations, and it also responds to complaints about the civil rights of parents and the public.

The agency’s Civil Rights Office can impose a range of penalties up to a total loss of federal education funding for civil rights violations.

“The ministry has the power to investigate any public education agency whose policies or actions may infringe the rights of every student to equal access to public education,” Cardona wrote in a blog post.

He noted, in particular, that the special education office of the department “monitors the implementation by states of the federal law on special education which requires students with disabilities to receive free and appropriate public education.”

Representatives from TEA and the governor’s office were not immediately available for comment.

Texas has a troubled history of inadequate support for its most vulnerable students, an issue reported by federal authorities.

Three years ago, the US Department of Education determined that schools in Texas were denying student services in a deliberate attempt to limit the number of children enrolled in special education. The federal investigation followed a 2016 Houston Chronicle report that suggested schools were excluding students from special education programs because the agency wanted to cap enrollment in those more expensive classes at 8.5%.

The majority of Cantrell’s letter raises questions about TEA’s corrective actions as part of the ministry’s 2018 investigation. TEA did not sufficiently respond to a 2018 monitoring report and did not resolve the majority problems identified at the time, Cantrell wrote.

In 2016, 12-year-old Michael Crighton reviewed all the documents his mother has collected over the years regarding her struggles at school at The Woodlands.  Crighton has autism and gets overwhelmed easily.  His mother also kept the writing work he would do in school so that she could negotiate with the school to get him the services Crighton needed.

Even though state education officials wrote to the federal government in October 2020 that they believed Texas had implemented all required corrective measures, the federal government found that TEA had more to do.

In late October 2020, the federal government released a new surveillance plan based on observations from a 2019 visit to 12 campuses in six school systems.

The 2020 follow-up report concluded that TEA had only implemented one of the items included in the initial list of issues.

Cantrell’s department is giving TEA 30 days to respond to newly identified issues related to “long-standing non-compliance” with federal law that governs how school systems serve students with disabilities.

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The DMN Education Lab deepens coverage and conversation on pressing education issues critical to the future of North Texas.

The DMN Education Lab is a community-funded journalism initiative, with support from The Beck Group, Bobby and Lottye Lyle, Communities Foundation of Texas, The Dallas Foundation, Dallas Regional Chamber, Deedie Rose, The Meadows Foundation, Solutions Journalism Network , Southern Methodist University and Todd A. Williams Family Foundation. The Dallas Morning News retains full editorial control of Education Lab journalism.


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