President Joe Biden on Wednesday ordered the Department of Education to combat efforts by Republican governors who have banned school mask mandates, the latest escalation of a conflict between the White House and GOP officials over how best to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.
Biden, in a memo released by the White House, ordered Education Secretary Miguel Cardo to “assess all available tools” to ensure governors are “not standing in the way” of a “safe return to school for our Nation’s children.”
This includes having the Department of Education’s civil rights arm investigate school districts and consider complaints by parents about the alleged discriminatory impact of school mask mandate bans, which could lead to settlements and, in extreme cases, the revocation of federal funding, according to the New York Times.
Biden said Wednesday he will not “sit by as governors try to intimidate educators protecting our children,” echoing a claim from Cardona last week that coronavirus relief funds could be used to pay teachers who defy Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ ban.
Biden also accused GOP officials of “trying to turn public safety measures… into political disputes for their own political gain” and “setting a dangerous tone,” citing a Tennessee school board meeting where anti-mask protesters threatened health officials.
The Biden administration has repeatedly clashed with DeSantis and other governors like Texas’ Greg Abbott over their approaches to the coronavirus pandemic. “As I’ve said before, if you aren’t gonna fight Covid-19, at least get out of the way,” Biden said Wednesday in what has become a rallying cry for the White House.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend “universal indoor masking for all students, staff, teachers, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status.” Some critics have pointed to the fact that the European Union and United Kingdom do not recommend masks for kids under 12 years old.
Biden also issued a directive to the Department of Health and Human Services on Wednesday to change regulations to withhold Medicare and Medicaid funding from nursing homes that don’t mandate vaccines for their staff.