U.S. Secretary of Education puts Gov. Stitt, Supt. Hofmeister on notice for prohibition of mask mandates in schools

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – The Biden administration is criticizing the Stitt administration for passing a law that bans school boards from putting mask mandates in place.

Oklahoma was one of six states that got a letter from U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. 

In a memo, Biden directs Cardona to use “all available tools” to make sure kids are safe in schools.

“We’re not going to sit by as governors try to block and intimidate educators protecting our children,” President Joe Biden said Wednesday.

Cardona, addressing both Gov. Kevin Stitt and State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister in the letter, writes in part: “Oklahoma’s actions to block school districts from voluntarily adopting science-based strategies for preventing the spread of COVID-19 that are aligned with the guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) puts these goals at risk and may infringe upon a school district’s authority to adopt policies to protect students and educators as they develop their safe return to in-person instruction plans required by Federal law.”

Schools getting American Rescue Plan funds have to have return-to-school safety plan.

The letter goes on to say, “the Department will continue to closely review and monitor whether Oklahoma is meeting all of its Federal fiscal requirements.”

In a blog post, Cardona says the federal government will pay the salaries of educators if the state doesn’t as a punishment for going against state policy.

Plus, the U.S. Department of Education can investigate state education agencies, and the public can send complaints, too.

Hofmeister says she supports safety measures but doesn’t go against Senate Bill 658, which prohibits mask mandates in schools.

“I think there’s a way to actually find balance,” she said. “What we have seen in Oklahoma is our district leaders who have said we’re going to make a requirement that our students and staff wear masks, but there is certainly still that opportunity for parents with their parental opt out process, which is already in place with certain vaccines and that can be utilized.”

State Sen. Rob Standrdige (R-Norman) is one of the bill’s authors.

“What about the parents and the children, where are their rights for healthcare choices and what is healthiest for the child?” he said. “What is the benefits versus harm on masks? And what are those potential harms? I see that missing starkly from all the politicians and everybody else that wants to take away the rights of parents and children.”

Stitt responded to the letter with the following statement: “Oklahomans overwhelmingly believe parents should make decisions about their kids, not the government. The fact that President Biden is focused on telling Oklahomans how to parent their kids while he turns his back on the American citizens trapped by terrorists in Afghanistan is another example in his pattern of poor judgment.”

The State Department of Health had a virtual press conference today.

When asked about the letter, Commissioner of Health Dr. Lance Frye said, “we don’t make school policy decisions. We’ve always supported using all mitigation measures that are necessary and vaccines.”

Regarding keeping kids safe, Dr. Gitanjali Pai, Chief Medical Officer said, “for those students who are under the age of 12 and not yet eligible to get vaccinated, we highly encourage other mitigation efforts like the three W’s: wear a mask, wash your hands, watch your distance.”

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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