State schools

US Court of Appeals overturns Iowa mask ban for state schools

picture by Mika Baumeister to Unsplash

By Mathew Seibert

DES MOINES, IA — The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled last week that, for the safety of students with disabilities, mandatory school mask bans are discriminatory and illegal.

The court ruling overturned Iowa legislation banning mask mandates last May. The bill had barred K-12 schools in Iowa from being able to mandate the use of face masks. It also prevented cities and counties in Iowa from requiring masks in businesses.

But the courts now agree with parents, who filed a lawsuit that requires communities to implement mask mandates in their schools to ensure students with disabilities have safe access to public education.

This case was brought to court by the parents of 11 children with disabilities, the ACLU of Iowa and the Duff Law Firm. The court ruled that the customers were entitled to the preliminary injunction ensuring that Iowa school districts carry out the correct procedures regarding the masking warrants.

This will allow their children to access public education safely, the ACLU says.

ACLU Disability Rights Program Director Suzan Mizner said, “The Eighth Circuit confirmed what we have known to be true all along: Mandatory school mask bans are discriminatory and illegal.”

Mizner further explains, “To safely attend schools, many students with disabilities need their schools to require masks. At a time when COVID-19 is once again ravaging our communities, this decision ensures that schools can continue to take basic public health precautions, such as requiring universal mask wearing to protect their students.

ACLU Chief Legal Officer Rita Bettis Austen said the court’s decision was a victory for children with disabilities in the state of Iowa, noting that “no parent should have to choose between health and safety of his child and his education”.

The groups in the lawsuit argue that federal civil rights laws already implemented require schools across the state to be able to mandate masks to provide a safe environment for children with disabilities.

Two additional comments were made by Shira Wakschlag, Senior Director, Legal Advocacy and General Counsel at The Arc of the United States, and Catherine E. Johnson, Executive Director of Disability Rights Iowa.

Wakschlag commented, “Amid another surge of COVID-19, the court makes it clear that students with disabilities in Iowa and across the country can attend their neighborhood schools alongside their peers without putting their health and life threatening.”

Johnson said: “I welcome today’s decision that universal masking as an accommodation is both reasonable and necessary for students with disabilities to safely attend in-person school during the pandemic in Classes.”