The U.S. Department of Education Monday announced an investigation into five Republican-led states that have banned mask mandates in schools.

Federal education officials said the policies could amount to discrimination against students with disabilities or certain health conditions. The inquiries follow disability rights groups and parents of disabled children filing a federal lawsuit Aug. 24, challenging the South Carolina budget proviso that bans school districts from requiring masks in schools.

Though department officials said it is launching the investigations at its own discretion, not in response to complaints and lawsuits.

The department’s Office for Civil Rights sent letters to education leaders in five states that have barred schools from mandating masks for students and staff: Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah.

“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. “The department will fight to protect every student’s right to access in-person learning safely.”

The S.C. Department of Education responded to City Paper editor Sam Spence on Twitter, saying state Superintendent Molly Spearman “already addressed” the issues raised, with a link to an Aug. 18 memo questioned in the letter from the feds.

If the investigations determine that the state mask bans have discriminated against students with disabilities, it could lead to sanctions including a loss of federal education funding.

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