U.S. Department of Education opens civil rights investigation into Tennessee and 4 others

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn (WDEF) – On Monday, The U.S. Department of Education launched a civil rights investigation into Gov. Bill Lee and four other governors who are prohibiting mask mandates in schools.  

“The Department has heard from parents from across the country – particularly parents of students with disabilities and with underlying medical conditions – about how state bans on universal indoor masking are putting their children at risk and preventing them from accessing in-person learning equally.” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a news release.

Democratic Representative Yusaf Hakeem believes Governor Lee should remove the opt-out option given to parents and instead allow masks to be mandatory for all children in schools where a mandate has been issued.

“It’s very important that the federal government becomes involved in this process because in my view the state is not looking out for the safety and welfare of the children in general. I think we have to look beyond what some people feel is their individual rights when it’s imposing hardship and even death on the vast majority of citizens,” says Yusaf Hakeem, Representative (D).

Senator Todd Gardenhire says there is no easy way to solve the controversy because it’s personal to everyone. However, as someone who has a hearing disability and is dependent on lip reading, he understands that there is another point of view.

 “Nothing is fair about this whole pandemic and it approaches everybody in a different way. But those of us who have a disability and are born with a disability, through no fault of our own and are now put into a situation where we are at a disadvantage of other people but graded against them. The decision should be made as local as possible,” says Senator Todd Gardenhire, (R) 

The investigations will explore each state’s compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and whether statewide prohibitions on universal indoor masking violate Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which prohibits disability discrimination by public entities, including public education systems and institutions. 

So what results might possibly come out of this investigation? One Local attorney explains 

“They could do one of two things. 1 they could withhold funds. 2 they could take them to court and force them to do whatever or say “hey the state of Tennessee you shall not do this or state of Tennessee you will do that,” says Attorney, Robin Flores. 

We will continue to update you as this investigation develops.

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