DES MOINES, Iowa — Once a three-judge panel of the 8th circuit court of appeals in Omaha made its 2-1 decision to partially reinstate the ban on mask mandates, local schools acted swiftly, and the Iowa State Education Association reacted with devastation. “This will be a concern to educators across the state. Using this as a political maneuver or politicizing the use of masks really isn’t something that we believe is the appropriate thing,” said Iowa State Education Association President Mike Beranek.

Eleven Iowa parents backed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa challenged the initial ban because their children are either too young to be vaccinated or have an underlying health condition making them extremely susceptible to severe illness from COVID-19. “This ruling held that the Federal Rehabilitation Act requires that schools provide universal masking when it is necessary as a reasonable accommodation so students with disabilities who are more vulnerable to COVID-19 can go to school safely,” said ACLU Iowa Legal Director Rita Bettis Austen.

They argued banning mask mandates is discriminatory to their children’s education and see the court’s decision differently. Disability Rights Iowa Executive Director Catherine E. Thompson said, “Today is a monumental day for our plaintiffs as well as all Iowans who have been forced to choose between sacrificing their child’s health or educational opportunities.”

School districts represented by the parents in the lawsuit can continue current mask mandates if already in place like Des Moines. ACLU Iowa reads the ruling as most schools being able to have mask mandates if they choose, with few districts being an exception. National Director for ACLU Disability Rights Program Susan Mizner said, “In theory it is the possibility that we have in Iowa a school that may be very small without any children who are vulnerable to COVID and there the mask mandate ban could apply.”

Within hours of the ruling, school districts like Urbandale and West Des Moines interpreted the decision as having to remove any mask mandates. West Des Moines Community School District released a statement saying, “Today we learned that the preliminary injunction has been vacated. This means that the WDMCS can no longer require masks, effective immediately.”

Bettis Austen said that interpretation simply is not true, “That is absolutely incorrect. West Des Moines, just like all Iowa schools, are required to follow federal law and the court just ruled it is a reasonable accommodation for students with disabilities under federal law.”