Cardona says civil rights probes may be launched over school mask bans

Cardona says civil rights probes may be launched over school mask bans
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Education Secretary Miguel CardonaMiguel CardonaHillicon Valley — Immigrants being put in surveillance programs Senate Democrats urge government to do more to protect K-12 schools against hackers Democrats call on Education secretary to address 'stealthing' at federal level MORE on Sunday said he is “prepared to launch investigations” with the department’s Office for Civil Rights in response to states that have implemented bans on mask mandates for students.

“We are prepared to launch investigations with our Office for Civil Rights to ensure that all students have access to this fundamental right of education, and it's sad that we're talking about this now,” Cardona told host Chuck ToddCharles (Chuck) David ToddHealth officials warn against jumping to conclusions on omicron Cohen says Weisselberg not 'key' to Trump case Cohen says Trump will lose if he runs in 2024 MORE on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” 

“We're gonna use our Office for Civil Rights to investigate any claims that come forward to make sure that students’ rights are kept,” he added.

The vow to launch investigations comes after Cardona told The New York Times last week that the Education Department would enlist its civil rights enforcement branch to look into states that have implemented policies that block mask mandates.

A number of GOP-led states have signed executive orders that prevent the enforcement of masking requirements in schools, including Florida, Texas and Tennessee.

Cardona, during the NBC interview on Sunday, also doubled down on the administration’s promise to give federal funds to school districts that defy governor orders and implement mask mandates, which puts them at risk of losing state funding.

He announced the initiative last week, writing in a statement that “we've also made clear to district leaders that any financial penalties imposed by the state can be addressed immediately using CARES, CRRSA, or American Rescue Plan funds.”

When pressed by Todd on how the districts will be able to access the funds, Cardona said they "have access to federal funds that they can draw down at any moment" and do not need approval from governors because the funding was approved by Congress.

The comments from Cardona come as health experts, school administrators and parents are preparing to return to classrooms this fall at a time when COVID-19 cases across the country are surging because of the highly infectious delta variant.