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Education Secretary Miguel Cardona. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

The Biden administration will use the Department of Education's civil rights office to discourage states from banning mask mandates in schools, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona told the New York Times on Wednesday.

Why it matters: Several states have prohibited mask requirements from being implemented in schools, even as coronavirus cases continue to increase across the U.S. due to the Delta variant.

  • In Florida and Texas, governors issued executive orders that effectively prohibit local officials from mandating masks in classrooms.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people wear masks while in school regardless of vaccination status.

State of play: The Education Department could potentially start investigations if state policies are suspected to be violating students' civil rights by prohibiting masks, the Times notes.

  • The department could also look into complaints from parents who argue that banning masks is a civil rights violation because "it could deny a student their right to an education by putting them in harm’s way in school," the Times writes.
  • By law, students are entitled to a free appropriate public education.

What they're saying: "The president is appalled, as I am, 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," Cardona told the Times.

  • "At the end of the day," he added, "We shouldn’t be having this conversation. What we’re dealing with now is negligence."
  • "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.' ... That goes against the fundamental beliefs of educators across the country to protect their students and provide a well-rounded education."

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Utah school district ignored widespread racial harassment, DOJ says

The U.S. Department of Justice building in Washington D.C. Photo: Yasin Ozturk/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A Utah school district intentionally ignored racial harassment and abuse for years despite repeated complaints, the Justice Department said this week.

Why it matters: An investigation launched in 2019 revealed "persistent failures to respond to reports of race-based harassment of Black and Asian American students by district staff and other students," according to the DOJ.

20 hours ago - Axios on HBO

Rand Paul claims vindication in battle with Anthony Fauci

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) told Mike Allen in an interview for "Axios on HBO" that President Biden should fire Anthony Fauci "just for lack of judgment, if nothing else."

The big picture: Paul claims vindication in his dispute with Fauci, played out at heated Senate hearings, over the level of risk of U.S.-funded research in Wuhan, where COVID began.

1 hour ago - Sports

Unvaccinated athletes face 21-day quarantine at Beijing Olympics

Logos for the 2022 Winter Olympics at Yanqing Ice Festival in February 2021 in Beijing. Photo: Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

Athletes, staff members and journalists at the 2022 Beijing Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games who have not been vaccinated against the coronavirus will be required to quarantine for three weeks, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) outlined in its newly-published "playbooks."

Why it matters: The quarantine period is longer than the Games themselves, meaning vaccinations or an earlier arrival date will be required to participate in or cover the Games.