DES MOINES, Iowa — School districts in Iowa will still not be able to issue districtwide mask mandates, according to a court ruling this week.
On Monday the U.S. 8th Circuit Court ruled on the lawsuit filed against Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds and Ann Lebo, the Director of the Iowa Department of Education. The state law in question is the one that blocked school districts from implementing mask mandates.
In a 2-1 decision, the Court ruled that a previous court ruling that blocked the law banning mandates was moot. Ruling that the lawsuit over the Iowa law, Section 280.31, was irrelevant now due to lower COVID-19 cases. But the Court emphasized school districts have a right to impose mask mandates to accommodate disabled students.
“Plaintiffs are entitled to a preliminary injunction because mask requirements are reasonable accommodations required by federal disability law to protect the rights of Plaintiffs’ children,” said United States Circuit Judge Duane Benton. “However, the injunction imposed by the district court sweeps more broadly than necessary to remedy Plaintiffs’ injuries.”
Judge Benton added that the state law still applies only when it is not interfering with federal law; like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The lawsuit was filed back in September 2021 by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Iowa, along with 11 Iowa families. Their lawsuit was filed saying the state law went against ADA.
“Previously schools were being told that state law prohibited them from issuing a mask mandate if they wanted to do that,” said Veronica Fowler, the Communications Director at the ACLU of Iowa. “And so our lawsuit is pushback against that.”
Fowler did not say if the ACLU was planning on pursuing further litigation in this case. But Fowler said that this ruling doubles down who federal law protects in the state.
“Bottom line is that schools and parents of students with disabilities can still ask for masking to protect those students,” said Fowler. “That is the bottom line. That hasn’t changed in all the months of legal back and forth.”
A couple of school districts responded to a request for a statement on whether or not this would impact the district’s current mask policy:
“The decision by the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals has no impact on the district currently. However, the Court’s opinion affirms what federal law already demands; that DMPS and other Iowa school districts provide equitable access to all students regardless of their medical circumstances and that includes accommodations like masking when there is safety risk for a student attempting to access a free and appropriate education.”Amanda Lewis, the Communications Officer at Des Moines Public Schools
“As of today, there are no plans in place to revisit the district-wide mask policy; masks remain optional but highly encouraged. Any accommodations that may be needed to better support students would be on a case-by-base basis and would alight with the student’s Individualized Education Plan.”Dena Claire, the Communications Manager for Urbandale Community School District
Both of these school districts have masking as optional for students. The ruling does open the door for school districts to put requirements in whenever necessary to accommodate those students who are at higher risk of COVID-19.