For over a year, parents and some teachers have been sounding the alarm over devastating mental health consequences for students, especially those with special needs, subject to Wuhan coronavirus restrictions. 

“Some students with disabilities simply cannot tolerate wearing a mask, due to physical limitations, sensory intolerance, or behavioral concerns,” the Special Needs Alliance explains

From the Organization for Autism Research

This school year has created many challenges for parents. Should I send my kids to school? Or let them learn at home virtually? In many cases, families don’t even have choices. For families that include autistic children, the challenges are multiplied. Recent news stories have highlighted one of those challenges: wearing face masks.

As noted by Megan Reagan, the mother of an autistic child with ADHD in elementary school in Wisconsin, it’s difficult for some autistic people to wear masks because of sensitivity issues, “He has a problem with all of them. It’s not the style of facemasks that’s the issue. It’s the fact that it’s still covering his nose and his mouth and he feels like he can’t breathe normally.”

In Florida, a 12-year-old child was not allowed to attend school because he wasn’t wearing a face mask, despite the fact that he is autistic and non-verbal and needs an in-person education, according to his mother. As reported on the News Channel 8 website, Ruby Rodriguez said she was told her son could come back to school only if she got a “district-issued mask exemption form signed by a doctor.” Rodriguez tried to get a signature from her son’s pediatrician, another pediatrician, and three walk-in clinics, as well as a facility for children with special needs and was unable to obtain an exemption.

The consequences for children without special needs are also serious. Mask wearing can impede mental health and slow social development. 

Now, the Department of Justice is finally taking notice and offering guidance to combat self-harm. 

“In recognition of World Mental Health Day, today the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) jointly issued a fact sheet to support students with mental health disabilities, their families, and their schools in the era of COVID-19. Along with the fact sheet, OCR released a letter to educators highlighting the civil rights obligations of schools and postsecondary institutions to students with mental health disabilities,” DOJ released in a statement Wednesday. “The fact sheet entitled Supporting Students at Risk of Self-Harm in the Era of COVID-19, provides information about federal civil rights laws that protect students with mental health disabilities. The fact sheet includes scenarios that illustrate when the department might investigate a potential violation; gives schools and postsecondary institutions a list of action steps to create an environment that is responsive to students with mental health disabilities; and provides educational and crisis resources for students, families, and educators.”   

Ann Coulter

Despite the guidance from DOJ, the Biden administration remains a strong proponent of mask mandates for children. School districts around the country have moved forward with mask mandates for children two years old and up.