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Judge temporarily blocks Iowa's ban on mask mandates in schools

Governor of Iowa Kim Reynolds said Monday after a judge blocked her ban on mask mandates in schools that she will appeal the decision. File Photo by Chris Kleponis/UPI
Governor of Iowa Kim Reynolds said Monday after a judge blocked her ban on mask mandates in schools that she will appeal the decision. File Photo by Chris Kleponis/UPI | License Photo

Sept. 13 (UPI) -- A federal district judge has temporarily blocked an Iowa law that barred schools from mandating masks, stating the prohibition "substantially" increases the risk of children contracting COVID-19 while denying those with disabilities equal access to education.

U.S. District Judge Robert W. Pratt ruled in favor of 11 parents of children with disabilities who earlier this month challenged the law Gov. Kim Reynolds signed in May to bar school districts from instituting mask mandates, stating it violated civil rights protected under the Americans with Disability Act.

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The parents of children who suffer from asthma, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and other underlying health conditions had argued the ban would deny their children equal access to education, which is outlawed under the federal disability rights law.

In his ruling, Pratt said that denying these children's access to education when a safe in-person alternative was possible due to universal masking "most certainly constitutes an irreparable harm."

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He also said that after examining the data concerning the effectiveness of masking to reduce transmission of COVID-19 that the court "overwhelming supports" the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics' recommendation for universal mask-wearing in schools.

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"Because plaintiffs have shown that Iowa Code section 280.31's ban on mask mandates in schools substantially increases their risk of contracting the virus that causes COVID-19 and that due to their various medical conditions they are at an increased risk of severe illness or death, plaintiffs have demonstrated that an irreparable harm exists," he said, referring to the virus that causes COVID-19 by its technical name.

Reynolds, a Republican, said she plans to appeal the decision.

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"Today, a federal judge unilaterally overturned a state law, ignored the decision by our elected legislature and took away parents' ability to decide what's best for their children," she said in a statement. "We will appeal and exercise every legal option we have to uphold state law and defend the rights and liberties afforded to any American citizens protected by our constitution."

After the Iowa ruling was announced, Des Moines Public Schools said it will reinstate its mask mandate effective Wednesday.

"The court's decision to set aside Iowa's ban on school districts being able to protect children in our care is welcome news," Thomas Ahart, superintendent of Des Moines Public Schools, said in a statement. "[A]s superintendent, I will reinstate a mask mandate -- as we had in place for most of last school year -- for all students, staff and visitors to Des Moines Public Schools."

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Iowa is one of several Republican-led states to pass laws banning schools from mandating face masks, arguing that to force universal masking strips parents of their right to choose how to protect the health of their families.

School districts and parents have fought back against the bans as several cases move through the courts.

Ritta Bettis Austen, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, said she is "grateful" for Pratt's ruling as the law would have put vulnerable children at risk.

"We are relieved that schools across the state will now be able to protect those kids as required by federal law," Austen said in a statement. "No parent should be asked to choose between the safety and health of their child and their child's ability to go to school, but that's exactly the position that this law put parents across Iowa in."

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