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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a press conference. Photo: Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images.

The Education Department announced Friday that it is investigating Florida over its ban on mask mandates.

Why it matters: The investigation, which said the ban could discriminate against students with disabilities or underlying medical conditions, is the latest development in both the legal back-and-forth over masks in Florida schools and between the Biden administration and GOP-led states over mask mandates.

Background: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' (R) appeal was originally denied on Wednesday, but the First District Court of Appeal reinstated the ban earlier Friday.

  • The ban includes a policy of withholding funds from school districts that defy the governor's order.
    • Last month, the Biden administration offered financial aid for schools in Florida affected by DeSantis' policy.

Details: The six states' ban on mask mandates contradicts guidance from the CDC, which has advised universal mask-wearing in classrooms.

  • The investigation will focus on whether the mask policy "students with disabilities who are at heightened risk for severe illness from COVID-19 are prevented from safely returning to in-person education" Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Suzanne Goldberg wrote in a letter on Friday.

Between the lines: The Biden administration could issue sanctions if states are found to have discriminated against students with disabilities.

  • "OCR has the authority to take further steps to ensure that a recipient of federal funds complies with its anti-discrimination obligations, including by initiating an enforcement hearing process in front of an administrative law judge in the Department of Education or by referring the matter to the Department of Justice for enforcement," a Department of Education official told Axios last week.

What they're saying: DeSantis has argued that Florida's policy allows parents to make the best decision for their children.

  • "It's simply unacceptable that state leaders are putting politics over the health and education of the students they took an oath to serve," Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in a statement last week. "The department will fight to protect every student's right to access in-person learning safely."

Go deeper

Oct 19, 2021 - Health

Supreme Court declines to block Maine health care workers vaccine mandate

A Maine health care worker prepares vaccine dose. Photo: Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to hear an emergency appeal of a vaccine mandate for Maine health care workers.

The big picture: The mandate, which was announced in August by Democratic Gov. Janet Mills, says that Maine health care workers need to be vaccinated by Oct. 29 or risk losing their jobs and not qualifying for unemployment benefits.

Judge denies relief for Cobb parents suing over mask-optional policy

Pro-mask demonstrators hold signs and chant during a rally over Cobb School District’s optional mask policy. Photo: Elijah Nouvelage for Bloomberg via Getty Images

A federal court judge has rejected parents’ request for a temporary injunction in their lawsuit against the Cobb County School District over its mask-optional policy.

Why it matters: Approval of the request would have required the district to follow CDC guidelines to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in schools, including universal masking while indoors.

GE to mandate COVID vaccinations for U.S. workers

Photo: Sebastien Bozon/AFP via Getty Images

General Electric will require all of its workers in the U.S. to be vaccinated against COVID-19, citing President Biden's executive order for federal contractors, the company confirmed to Axios on Tuesday.

Why it matters: General Electric is the latest in a slew of major companies to mandate the vaccine for workers, following in the footsteps of American Airlines, Tyson Foods and Microsoft, among others.