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Federal court: Iowa may enforce mask ban in most schools

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is allowing a group of parents of disabled children to pursue a lawsuit that seeks to strike down the law.

DES MOINES, Iowa — A federal appeals court has allowed the state to enforce a law that prevents local schools from imposing mask mandates.

However, the court also allowed a group of parents of disabled children to pursue a lawsuit that seeks to strike down the law

Two members of a three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Omaha on Tuesday found a previous federal judge’s decision that blocked the state ban on mask mandates was too broad. They sided with the parents and a disability rights group in concluding that their lawsuit can proceed in federal court. 

Judge Duane Benton wrote:

"The issues presented by Plaintiffs involve a discrete group of students: those whose disabilities require accommodations in the form of mask requirements in order to safely be present in their schools. Defendants’ enforcement of Section 280.31 has prevented schools, including those attended by Plaintiffs’ children, from providing accommodations required by federal law. To remedy Plaintiffs’ injury, an injunction is necessary only as applied to their schools and districts. Accordingly, the preliminary injunction is vacated to the extent that it applies to those schools and districts that Plaintiffs do not attend. The case is remanded to the district court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion."

The panel found the parents likely will succeed because mask requirements constitute a reasonable modification and schools’ failure to provide this accommodation likely violates the federal Rehabilitation Act.   

"Courts should not act so quickly to intervene in the resolution of conflicts which arise in the daily operation of school systems." Judge Ralph Erickson wrote in a dissent.

The Iowa State Education Association told Local 5 the 2-to-1 ruling removing the statewide restrictions comes at an especially difficult time for educators who are already struggling with COVID.

"This is just adding one more pressure point, one more stressor onto an already stressed environment," ISEA President Mike Beranek said. "And so it's very sad that the federal judge has put this into place."

The Associated Press contributed to this report