How State-Level Mask Policy Prohibitions Impact Students with Disabilities

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Paul O’Neill and Wendy Tucker, Center for Learner Equity

In this podcast, attorneys Wendy Tucker and Paul O’Neill from the Center for Learner Equity describe the current legal landscape in 10 states with state-level prohibitions against mask requirements in schools. They discuss the complaints filed in each state, including lawsuits filed under the Americans with Disabilities Act by families of students with disabilities. They also examine the legal maneuvering occurring and the actions being taken by the local parties and the United States Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. The conversation includes discussing what school leaders and teachers in these states can do as the legal battles continue. 


● In states where there are state-level prohibitions against school mask requirements, what types of lawsuits have been filed, and what is the status of those cases? 

● What is happening in states where temporary orders have been issued to stop state-level bans, and how do those orders work? 

● For school leaders and educators in these states, what can you do during this confusion? 

● What should we be looking for from these situations as the cases play out in court? 


While individual circumstances and needs require us to think flexibly about maintaining health and safety within our school communities, we know that masks are a critical method for ensuring that safety. According to Dr. Asaf Bitton, Associate Professor of Health Care Policy at the Department of Health Care Policy at Harvard Medical School and the Executive

Director of Ariadne Labs, “masks are a foundational cornerstone of an effective strategy to mitigate the societal effects of the COVID-19, save lives, and eventually end the pandemic. Very strong scientific evidence from around the globe clearly shows that correctly wearing high-quality masks reduces the spread of COVID-19 in individuals and communities. 

COVID-19 is primarily transmitted by exhaled virus-containing aerosols, which are small particles that are suspended in the air and linger in indoor settings. Wearing a mask protects the individual from inhaling these transmissible aerosols and protects others around them from being exposed to exhaled viruses. Masks are safe to wear and are a simple, effective way to stay healthy from severe respiratory diseases like COVID-19.” 


State Leaders Should Reverse State Level Prohibitions Against Local School District Mask Policies Due to Their Impact on Students with Disabilities 

‘A decision no parent should ever have to make’: Parents are suing over mask mandates

Lawmakers Rethink Mask Policies as More Kids Quarantine

OCR Press Release on Investigations of the 6 States that have active prohibitions and are being investigated by the US Department of Education: Iowa letter, Oklahoma letter, South Carolina letter, Tennessee letter, Utah letter, Florida letter

STAY CONNECTED For more information on the Center for Learner Equity and to stay up to date on the policies, research, and practices that impact students with disabilities, visit For more information on the Educating All Learners Alliance (EALA) and to stay connected to curated resources and tech tools, visit

About The Author

PAUL T. O’NEILL is the Co-Founder and Senior Fellow at the Center for Learner Equity. Paul is an education attorney, professor, and author with extensive experience guiding education organizations through challenges and growth. He advises schools, authorizers, networks, non-profits, government agencies, and philanthropies on the rules and complexities that apply to educational organizations and effective board governance. 


Paul is committed to community service; he helped found charter schools in the South Bronx and New Orleans and is currently Chair of a charter school on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. He served for several years as Chair of the Education & Law Committee of the New York City Bar Association, as well as on the Professional Advisory Board of the National Center for Learning Disabilities, and on the board of the Learning Disabilities Association of New York City. A graduate of Oberlin College, Paul earned his J.D. from the University of Virginia School of Law and his M.Ed. from Teachers College.


WENDY TUCKER is the Senior Director of Policy at the Center for Learner Equity. Wendy is an attorney, advocate and education policy expert. She has extensive experience as a trial lawyer, first as an assistant public defender and later in private practice. In 2005, inspired by her own daughter’s journey as a student with a disability, Wendy began representing families of students with disabilities in special education matters. She has worked extensively at the state and local level in Nashville, Tennessee to advocate for education policies, especially those that benefit students with disabilities. She has held leadership roles in several non-profit organizations focused on education and special education issues, including serving as the founding board chair of Nashville’s Diverse Learners Cooperative. 


© 2021 The Center for Learner Equity