by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The White House could be set to wade into the latest school mask mandate battle, which is now being waged just across the Potomac River from the nation’s capital.
Press secretary Jen Psaki tweeted about the issue after Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin issued an executive order allowing parents to opt out of school mask mandates, saying she supports Arlington County and other districts that have vowed to keep them in place.
The tweet came from Psaki’s personal account, and the White House did not respond to questions about its official stance on the matter. But the Biden administration has already gone to battle with several Republican governors over the issue of forced masking in schools.
In August, the Department of Education opened investigations in five mask-optional states — Oklahoma, South Carolina, Iowa, Tennessee, and Utah — for the purpose of determining whether they discriminated against students with disabilities who have a heightened risk of severe illness from COVID-19.
The White House used a different tactic in Arizona and Florida, which also have Republican governors. In Arizona, it has threatened to withhold COVID-19 relief funds if the state doesn’t allow local school boards to implement mask mandates. In Florida, the administration reimbursed local school board members whose pay was docked for defying Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ mandate ban.
However, no Florida school districts are still defying DeSantis, and Youngkin will have the upper hand in any showdowns with the White House, according to Heritage Foundation legal fellow Sarah Parshall Perry.
“The Department of Education’s hands are largely tied when it comes to involvement in state and local affairs,” Perry said, noting that very little school funding originates at the federal level. “Based on the timing of this, they’re unlikely to pursue a directed investigation.”