Dear District Administrators,
The purpose of this email is to raise two important issues regarding masks in schools.
First, as districts consider policy options regarding masks for students and staff, districts must consider the needs of all students, including those with medical conditions that make them susceptible to COVID-19. Certain students that are immunocompromised or that have other disabilities may be particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, students with individualized education programs are entitled to receive a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment. Students with disabilities are also entitled to reasonable accommodations under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. A universal mask policy may be necessary if that policy allows students with certain disabilities full participation in the educational programming and environment that they would otherwise be denied.
Please note that the U.S. Department of Education has opened civil rights investigations in five states to determine whether prohibitions on indoor masking discriminate against students with disabilities that are vulnerable to COVID-19. Districts should monitor this investigation and consult with their legal counsel to determine what is required under state and federal law.
Second, a reminder that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an Order on January 29, 2021 that requires all persons on school buses wear masks. This includes all drivers and passengers two years of age and older, and applies to both public and private school systems and child care programs. The Order contains exceptions for individuals with a disability who cannot safely wear a mask and for certain safety risks. The Order is in effect and enforceable under federal law, and is not simply guidance. Again, districts should consult with legal counsel to determine how best to comply with this Order.
If you have any questions, contact Julia Hartwig, Director, Special Education Team at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (608) 266-1781.