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Federal judge blocks Iowa's ban on school mask mandates

School districts will be allowed to require masks until the federal lawsuit challenging the statute makes its way through the courts.
Image: Student school mask
Northwood pre-school student Milah Vergeson gets help wearing a mask from her mother Whitney Barker on her way to her class during the first day of school, in Ames, Iowa, on Sept. 7, 2021.Nirmalendu Majumdar / Ames Tribune via USA Today

A federal judge on Friday granted a preliminary injunction that blocks enforcement of Iowa's ban on school mask requirements.

District Court Judge Robert Pratt called the preliminary injunction an “extreme remedy,” in his 27-page ruling but also cited “the current trajectory of pediatric Covid cases in Iowa since the start of the school year” and “the important public interests at stake.”

In September, Pratt issued a temporary order allowing the state’s 20 school districts to mandate the wearing of masks, which was set to expire on Monday.

The lawsuit was filed in early September by the Arc of Iowa, an advocacy group for people with disabilities, a group of 11 parents of students with disabilities, and the American Civil Liberties Union, arguing it puts students’ health at risk — particularly those with underlying health conditions — and denies them equal access to education.

School districts will now be allowed to require masks until the federal lawsuit challenging the mandate, which was signed into law by GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds in May, makes its way through the courts.

Rita Bettis Austen, the legal director at the ACLU of Iowa, applauded the ruling in a statement, saying schools are able to continue requiring masks "in order to meet the needs of kids in their district who have disabilities, including underlying conditions that make them vulnerable to serious illness, hospitalization, or death from Covid."

Reynolds, in a statement, criticized the decision.

“We will never stop fighting for the rights of parents to decide what is best for their children and to uphold state laws enacted by our elected legislators. We will defend the rights and liberties afforded to all American citizens protected by our constitution.”

The state swiftly appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit.