This week, we started to find out.
On Monday, the U.S. Department of Education opened civil-rights investigations into five states—Iowa, South Carolina, Utah, Oklahoma, and Tennessee—that are banning local school districts from imposing mask mandates. They are relying on two federal laws: the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which protects students with a disability from discrimination and guarantees them a right to a free education, and Title II of the Americans With Disabilities Act, which prohibits disability discrimination by public education systems. The states could be found in violation of federal law if the investigation finds that “students with disabilities who are at heightened risk for severe illness from COVID-19 are prevented from safely returning to in-person education.”
The penalties include loss of federal funding—or the school can simply agree to change its policies, which in this case would be choosing life by requiring masking and vaccination for school employees.
These students with heightened risk of illness include my 5-year-old daughter Nusayba, a Stage 4 cancer survivor who is immuno-suppressed due to her liver transplant. I recently wrote about how we were desperately trying to get her into virtual school, along with her brother, Ibrahim, who just turned 7. Thankfully, they were both admitted, and now I’m at home doing tech support until 3:30 p.m., but at least I know they are safe.
Meanwhile, there’s already been one COVID case on the second day of school. And their school is far from the worst of it. Thanks to the GOP’s multi-pronged and coordinated attack on masks, social distancing, and vaccines at schools, Delta is still thriving and there have been massive outbreaks at schools across the country.
This isn’t a “both sides” problem. Of the 10 states with the most COVID-19 cases per capita, as of Wednesday, nine of them were led by Republican governors—surprise!—and voted for Trump in 2020, as The New York Times reported. Meanwhile, 16 Democratic states have statewide mask requirements for schools. Tennessee, one of the five states being sued, just set a new record for COVID hospitalizations, and previously moved to cut off all vaccine outreach to students and young adults.
Now, thousands of its school-aged kids have COVID-19 with no end in sight. Some school districts in the United States are even leaving it up to parents to decide if they will quarantine their exposed child or send the child to school to spread the disease to other unvaccinated children.
Meanwhile, conservative radio hosts and influencers who peddled anti-vax misinformation are winning Darwin Awards and dying weekly from the coronavirus.
However, this doesn’t stop the right-wing hate machine. Onward they persist with their nihilistic, counter-majoritarian death march.
Republicans, such as those in Texas, believe they have the freedom to infect their kid and your kids with coronavirus, but women shouldn’t have the freedom to control their own bodies. Other conservative activists believe “freedom” means harassing and threatening school boards, intimidating health care workers, and spreading the dangerous QAnon conspiracy theory, which is now a domestic terror threat. Among other things, some suggest that anyone who believes in vaccines and mask mandates in schools is actually a “demonic entity” and bears “the mark of the beast.” That’s what Melissa, an alleged nurse from Lee County, Florida, recently said at a school-board meeting where she said that Christians around America will “take them all out,” referring to anyone who opposed her pro-death initiatives to spread COVID-19.
You’d think she’s a kooky outlier, a walking punchline. But she’s an ordinary rank-and-file soldier in this death movement that is holding our children’s safety hostage to advance their culture war. They aren’t the “American Taliban” or “enforcing Sharia,” and we should stop using Islam and Muslims as the benchmark for extremism. They are agents of White Christian Supremacy hellbent on ensuring minority rule for white men by any violent means necessary.
Our kids are simply the bait and collateral damage.
Steve Lynch, a Republican running for Northampton County executive in Pennsylvania, is an anti-masker encouraging violence against school boards unwilling to submit to his anti-masking belligerence. On Aug. 29, he said, “You go in and you remove ’em. I’m going in there with 20 strong men… They can leave or be removed.”
In Buncombe County, North Carolina, anti-maskers tried to “overthrow” the school board, encouraged in part by Rep. Madison Cawthorn, who fought a tree and lost, and continued rehabilitating the imprisoned violent insurrectionists of Jan. 6 at a recent rally by referring to them as “political hostages.” He said he’s working on “busting them out,” and he also seemed to call for another riot, despite this past one effectively killing five people, including a police officer, and being followed by law-enforcement suicides. He urged the Macon County Republicans to “defend their children” from harmful vaccines.
One of my lovely fans emailed me this week to warn me that violence will “spill out into the streets” and “there [are] 100 million Americans waiting for the day. I don’t foresee any Army coming to the rescue of the voices such as yourself who spin a web of lies and hateful rhetoric.”
He used his full name and email address. There’s no need to hide in the shadows and wear the hoods when your elected officials and your God-King, Trump, openly incite potential violence and criminality.
They are deliberately using threats of violence to terrorize the majority and have us cede ground. It seems to be working, as school-board members are stepping down across the country, unwilling to tolerate the “toxic and impossible” environment.
We’re dealing with a potential criminal element, and might need to flex with more than the Education Department and broad vaccine mandates to save our kids. I asked former career federal prosecutor Glenn Kirschner if the Department of Justice could step in with a criminal investigation if there’s evidence that these GOP-led state governments are actually harming children.
“I happen to believe that, because education is primarily a local issue, that local and state prosecutorial authorities should be evaluating whether the state governors and governments are recklessly and criminally endangering our children,” Kirschner told me, holding Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as “a prime example.”
He believes DeSantis’ mask bans in Florida school districts might give prosecutors enough evidence to initiate a criminal investigation. He cited the recent Florida judge who overturned the recent mask ban and sided with parents whose lawsuit alleges, in part, that the policy violates the state constitution that requires providing a “uniform, efficient, safe, secure and high quality system” of public schools.
“I cannot understand why our prosecutorial authorities—federal, state, and local—seem to have concluded that we shouldn’t try to hold elected politicians accountable for killing the citizenry,” Kirschner added.
It is still possible that the Department of Education is introducing the carrot before the Department of Justice unleashes the stick. From my eyes, these GOP leaders are helping to actively kill people and harm children with their pro-death policies. That should immediately warrant criminal investigations and liability for causing avoidable COVID deaths.
The rest of us, the majority, need to stand our ground against this belligerent minority for the sake of our children’s safety and public health.
We can’t “both sides” or seek a bipartisan solution with a pro-death movement. Enough.