NATP has closely monitored the mask mandates by state. This topic may appear unrelated to assessment but it is not! Every test coordinator knows that what happens in daily instruction must be mirrored during assessment administrations. This ensures that students’ testing environments are familiar and comfortable, thus putting students in the best position possible to be successful.
Now, whether or not wearing a mask at school is necessary or in students’ best interest is a matter of recent debate. See highlights below for details from a disability standpoint, which closely relate to our special education and accommodations rules and considerations:
- Students with disabilities often suffer from conditions that them make them extremely vulnerable and at risk of illness.
- Some parents are asking peers to wear their masks, as a matter of health and safety.
- One Tennessee couple are the lead plaintiff in a class action lawsuit challenging the Tennessee governor’s opt-out policy on masks.
- In mid-August, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican, issued an executive order that allows parents to opt their children out of mask mandates.
- As of Aug. 20, 16% of students in Greyson’s district were opting out.
- On Friday, a federal judge temporarily blocked Lee’s order from being enforced, but that ruling only lasts until Sept. 17.
- In a wave of lawsuits in nearly half a dozen states, families of students with disabilities are joining the legal battle over masks in schools.
- Complaints filed in Tennessee, Florida, Utah, Texas and South Carolina argue that restrictions on mask mandates infringe on disability rights and that children with disabilities are being forced to choose between their health and their education.
- The U.S. Department of Education has also said restrictions on mask mandates may be discriminatory against students with disabilities.
- On Aug. 30, the department’s Office for Civil Rights announced it is investigating mask mandate restrictions in five states: Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah.
The Disability Case
- With restrictions on mask mandates in place, disability rights advocates are arguing that students with disabilities are putting their lives at risk to attend school and are having to make a choice between safety and education.
- Parents want schools to have the capacity to require masks on the basis of regional health metrics.
- The federal Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act guarantee that children with disabilities have access to an inclusive public education. They also require schools to provide “reasonable accommodations” to help make that education accessible — and the complaints argue those accommodations can include masks for everyone.
Running Out of Time
- Students are returning to school, state and federal challenges have been made, lawsuits have been filed, and civil rights investigations have been launched.
- Education Department has thrown its support behind school administrators who choose to ignore those bans.
- Some states are slow to respond, putting children at risk.
- For now, there isn’t much that parents of children with disabilities can do except wait and see how the courts rule.