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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

Nov 24, 2021 - World

Italy announces new COVID restrictions for the unvaccinated

Doctors at work in triage before administering the third dose of the COVID vaccine in Molfetta, Italy. Photo: Davide Pischettola/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Italy announced new COVID restrictions on Wednesday — barring unvaccinated people from dining indoors, attending shows, sports events, public ceremonies and entering nightclubs starting in December, the New York Times reports.

Why it matters: It follows a trend of public officials around the world imposing restrictions on unvaccinated people, as nations have struggled to get shots in arms, writes Axios' Shawna Chen.

Nov 24, 2021 - Health

European health agency urges expanding COVID booster shot access

A woman in Slovakia recieving the Sputnik V vaccine against COVID-19. Photo: VLADIMIR SIMICEK/AFP via Getty Images

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) recommended booster shots for all adults in a statement on Wednesday, as COVID-19 reaches new daily highs throughout the continent.

The big picture: Slovakia, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands and Hungary all reported new daily highs in infections on Wednesday, Reuters reports.

Nov 25, 2021 - Health

U.S. to mandate COVID vaccines for all border crossers in January

President Biden speaks during an event at the South Court Auditorium at Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, D.C. Photo: Alex Wong via Getty Images

The Biden administration will begin requiring essential travelers crossing U.S. borders to be fully vaccinated starting Jan. 22, a White House spokesperson told Axios Wednesday.

Why it matters: The move comes after the U.S. opened land borders with Canada and Mexico to non-essential travel in November, but only to those fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.