Biden to Pressure Governors Who Ban School Mask Mandates

Ralph Ellis

August 20, 2021

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

President Joe Biden says he has instructed U.S. Department of Education Secretary Michael Cardona to take action against governors who are trying to prevent local school districts from mandating face masks for students and teachers.

Speaking at a Wednesday news briefing, the President said he would not "sit by" while state officials endangered school children.

"I'm directing the Secretary of Education…to take additional steps to protect our children," Biden said. "This includes using all of his oversight authorities and legal actions, if appropriate, against governors who are trying to block and intimidate local school officials and educators."

Biden did not name any state leaders, but GOP governors Ron DeSantis of Florida, Greg Abbott of Texas, and Doug Ducey of Arizona have threatened to withhold funding from school districts that try to impose their own mask mandates.

Biden said that if a governor cuts the pay of an educator who requires masks in the classroom, money from the American Rescue Plan could be used to pay 100% of that person's salary.

Cardona wrote on the Education department's blog that the department will respond to complaints about states "not allowing local school districts to reduce virus transmission risk through masking requirements and other mitigation measures."

"Let me be clear—this Department will continue to use every tool in our toolbox to protect the health and safety of students and educators and to maximize in-person learning as the new school year begins. You have my word: We will follow the science," Cardona wrote.

DeSantis indicated Wednesday that he won't change his statewide ban on local face mask mandates.

"At the end of the day, you have local officials who do not believe they need to follow the law. That's what this is about. They are trying to posture it about me, because if you make it about me, you get on CNN," DeSantis said at a news conference, according to The Miami Herald. "We know that because that's just how the game is played."

The CDC says all children and teachers should wear face masks to prevent the spread of the Delta variant.


The White House: "Remarks by President Biden on Fighting the COVID-⁠19 Pandemic."

U.S. Department of Education: "Meeting the President's Call to Support the Safe and Sustained Reopening of Schools."