Biden directs Education Department to discourage states from banning masks.

The Biden administration will use the Department of Education's civil rights office to discourage states from banning mask mandates in schools, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona told the New York Times on Wednesday.

Education Department

Why it matters: Several states have prohibited mask requirements from being implemented in schools, even as coronavirus cases continue to increase across the U.S. due to the Delta variant.

In Florida and Texas, governors issued executive orders that effectively prohibit local officials from mandating masks in classrooms.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people wear masks while in school regardless of vaccination status.

State of play: The Education Department could potentially start investigations if state policies are suspected to be violating students' civil rights by prohibiting masks, the Times notes.

The department could also look into complaints from parents who argue that banning masks is a civil rights violation because "it could deny a student their right to an education by putting them in harm’s way in school," the Times writes.

By law, students are entitled to a free appropriate public education.

What they're saying: "The president is appalled, as I am, that there are adults who are blind to their blindness, that there are people who are putting policies in place that are putting students and staff at risk," Cardona told the Times.

"At the end of the day," he added, "We shouldn’t be having this conversation. What we’re dealing with now is negligence."

"I’ve heard those parents, saying, ‘Miguel, because of these policies, my child cannot access their school, I would be putting them in harm’s way.'  That goes against the fundamental beliefs of educators across the country to protect their students and provide a well-rounded education."

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Biden Directs Department of Education to Take Action Against Governors Blocking School Mask Mandates.

Joe Biden wearing a suit and tie: President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the coronavirus disease response and vaccination program during a speech in the East Room at the White House in Washington, D.C.Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the coronavirus disease response and vaccination program during a speech in the East Room at the White House in Washington, D.C.,

Updating the nation on the White House response to COVID on Wednesday, President Biden said he has directed Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona to exercise full oversight authority and explore legal action against governors who attempt to prohibit school mask mandates by executive orders.

“Some politicians are trying to turn public safety measures into political disputes for their own political gain,” Biden said, referencing Tennessee and other Republican states, which he alleged have used “intimidation and threats” against school boards.

The president said he called a number of superintendents in Florida in solidarity, praising their mask rules for K-12 students in defiance of Governor Ron DeSantis’s ban. Biden said those schools’ were “follow[ing] the science” and putting “students first.”

“I will stand with those who are trying to do the right thing,” he said.

Biden echoed the earlier comments of White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, affirming that funds from the American Rescue Plan can be used to reimburse the salaries of educators in school districts requiring masks in violation of governors’ orders.

Additionally, Biden announced a vaccine mandate for nursing home staff who service Medicaid patients, citing the low rates of inoculation at assisted living facilities. He said he will use “the power of the federal government as a payer of healthcare costs to reduce those risks for our most vulnerable seniors.”

Video: School boards defy governors' bans on mask mandates (Reuters)

School boards defy governors' bans on mask mandates

Applauding the private companies that preemptively required their employees to receive the shot, such as McDonalds, Biden said that “employers have more power to end this pandemic than ever before.”

He warned that the delta variant, which he said is twice as transmissible as the alpha variant, accounts for the bulk of new cases in the United States. While over 90 percent of seniors have had at least one shot, among other promising statistics, he stressed that “we need to go faster.”

“We are still in a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” he said, adding that “It’s a tragedy. There are people who are dying who didn’t have to.”

Speaking to the already vaccinated population, Biden announced a booster shot program, pending approval from the FDA, to combat the vaccine’s declining effectiveness. Eight months from receiving a second dose, the president said it will be recommended to receive a booster, meaning anyone vaccinated on or before January 20th will become eligible starting in late September.

The booster will promote immune response and is the “best way to protect ourselves from new variants that could arise,” he asserted.

Biden also addressed the complaints of world leaders who have criticized the administration for encouraging and distributing a third shot while some countries struggle to supply and administer the original two doses.

“We can take care of America and help the world at the same time,” he insisted.

Goverment Lamont to Name New Education Commissioner.

Gov. Ned Lamont will introduce his choice to serve as the next commissioner of the State Department of Education Thursday.

The governor will make the announcement during a bill signing ceremony at 11:15 a.m. in Hartford. The bill is an effort to recruit more teachers to take jobs in high-needs districts throughout the state.

The new commissioner will replace Dr. Miguel Cardona, who left the post after being nominated to become U.S. Secretary of Education in the Biden Administration.

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