DES MOINES, Iowa — A federal appeals court on Tuesday allowed the state to enforce a law that prevents local schools from imposing mask mandates, but 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 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.
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.
The parents, backed by the American Civil Liberties Union and disability rights organizations, filed the lawsuit in September 2021 against Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and Iowa Department of Education Director Ann Lebo that sought to strike down the law that bans schools from requiring masks.
In rejecting the earlier decision that stopped enforcement of the ban as too broad, the judges said only schools attended by the disabled students may impose mask mandates. That allowed the mandate ban to be enforced in most districts.
"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," the court wrote. "To remedy plaintiffs’ injury, an injunction is necessary only as applied to their schools and districts."
The lawsuit involves children who are too young to be vaccinated and have disabilities that make them susceptible to potentially severe COVID-19 cases. Their parents argue the law effectively excludes them from in-person learning in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act.