States banning mask mandates could face civil rights probes

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President Joe Biden speaks from the East Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Aug 18, 2021, on the COVID-19 response and vaccination program. U.S. health officials Wednesday announced plans to offer COVID-19 booster shots to all Americans to shore up their protection amid the surging delta variant and signs that the vaccines’ effectiveness is falling. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden has ordered his Education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students.

Biden’s order takes aim at Republican governors in Florida, Texas and other states that have barred schools from mandating masks in the classroom. Biden directed the Education Department to “assess all available tools” against those policies.

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In response, the Education Department raised the possibility of using its civil rights arm to push back. The agency says state policies could amount to discrimination if they lead to unsafe conditions that prevent students from attending school.

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