(LifeSiteNews) — In the latest escalation of what has become a national controversy, the Biden administration has officially stepped into the school mask mandate debate, threatening to wield the power of the federal government to force children to wear masks in schools despite some governors’ efforts to ban the mandates.
On Wednesday, amid growing backlash for the chaotic drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, President Joe Biden spoke about COVID-19 and mask mandates, saying he would direct the Department of Education to look into legal action against state governors who leave masking up to parents rather than school boards.
“Unfortunately, as you’ve seen throughout this pandemic, some politicians are trying to turn public safety measures — that is, children wearing masks in school — into political disputes for their own political gain,” Biden said.
“We are not going to sit by as governors try to block and intimidate educators protecting our children,” the president added.
Republican governors across the U.S., notably Gov. Ron DeSantis in Florida, Gov. Greg Abbott in Florida, and Gov. Kevin Stitt in Oklahoma, have taken action in their states to prevent school districts from compelling children to wear masks in school, leaving the choice up to parents.
But not all school district have complied with the governors’ orders.
Earlier this month, Broward County School District in southeastern Florida bucked Gov. DeSantis’ executive order forbidding school administrators to compel mask-wearing.
In response, DeSantis’ office issued a statement suggesting that the administrators’ pay might be frozen if the district continues to violate the executive order.
Now the Biden administration has entered the ring, offering to fund any district whose state monies are frozen for defying the ban on forced masking.
In his comments Wednesday Biden said he would direct U.S. Secretary of Education Dr. Miguel Cardona to use “all of his oversight authority,” and take “legal action if appropriate, against governors who are trying to block and intimidate local school officials and educators.”
The president said governors who oppose forcing children to wear masks and threaten penalties for defiant school administrators are “setting a dangerous tone.”
The news comes after Cardona sent a letter to Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran August 13, saying school districts have “sole and complete discretion” to, as the New York Post reported, “use federal funds to pay the salaries of education officials whose pay is cut by the governor.”
In the letter Cardona said his department is “eager to partner with” the Florida Department of Education to impose requirements like mask mandates, but promised that if the Department “does not wish to pursue such an approach, the Department will continue to work directly with the school districts and educators that serve Florida’s students.”
This week, coinciding with President Biden’s remarks on the issue, Cardona upped the ante.
According to the New York Times, the education secretary said he planned to “deploy the Education Department’s civil rights enforcement arm to investigate states that block universal masking.”
The Times reported that in a Wednesday interview, Cardona said he was “appalled 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.”
The education secretary claimed that parents and elected representatives should not question universal masking policies, accusing opponents of the practice of “negligence.”
Cardona’s comments come despite multiple studies which suggest that masks are ineffective in preventing COVID transmission and infection. Meanwhile, both the physical and psychological impact of forcing children to wear masks for eight hours a day, five days a week, is a major and growing concern.
“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,’” Cardona alleged. “And to me, that goes against a free, appropriate public education. That goes against the fundamental beliefs of educators across the country to protect their students and provide a well-rounded education.”
However none of the Republican governors who have banned mandates have banned mask-wearing in schools. Instead their actions have left the decision to parents. Those parents who want their children to wear masks in school may still direct their children to do so.
Gov. Abbott highlighted this point earlier this week, when he shared a news article describing the Texas Supreme Court’s decision to temporarily uphold his ban on mask mandates, and explained that the ban on mask mandates does not forbid Texans from wearing facial coverings.
BREAKING: The Texas Supreme Court imposes a temporary halt to lower court decisions that overruled the State ban on mask mandates.
The ban doesn’t prohibit using masks. Anyone who wants to wear a mask can do so, including in schools.https://t.co/QeVipZMPWH
— Greg Abbott (@GregAbbott_TX) August 15, 2021
“Anyone who wants to wear a mask can do so, including in schools,” Abbott said.
However, Biden has thrown his support behind giving school districts the exclusive authority, above parents, to mandate facial coverings for children, offering to pay the salaries of teachers who mandate masks.
“If a governor wants to cut the pay of a hard-working educator who wants to require masks in the classroom, the money from the American Rescue Plan can be used to pay that person’s salary,” the president said.
Gov. DeSantis hit back at the Biden administration in an address Thursday in which he mocked Biden’s “obsession” with forcing young children to wear masks while Afghanistan falls to the Taliban on his watch, leaving thousands of Americans stranded in the country now run by radical Islamic terrorists.
At an event promoting early care for COVID-19, particularly monoclonal antibody treatments, the governor of the Sunshine State said “we have Americans that are just being hung out to dry in Afghanistan,” while at the southern U.S. border illegal immigrants are “just pouring in.”
“So you have all these problems,” DeSantis said, noting that meanwhile the Biden administration is “intent on having the government force kindergarteners [and] first-graders to have to wear masks for eight hours a day.”
“Of all the things you could be dealing with,” the governor remarked, “you’re choosing to do this?”
“While the world burns, and parts of our country burn, you have this obsession that a little five-year-old should not be able to go to school without wearing that mask for eight hours a day,” DeSantis said.
The governor and father of three said that “as a parent,” he is “offended that the federal government thinks that they know better than we do as parents.”
“In Florida,” DeSantis added, “we want to make sure we’re standing by our parents.”