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Federal judge issues preliminary injunction, putting Iowa law banning mask mandates in schools on hold

Judge Robert Pratt wrote that while the move is an "extraordinary remedy," it is necessary due to "the irreparable harm that could befall" Iowa schoolchildren.
Credit: AP
FILE - In this July 29, 2020 file photo, custodian Doug Blackmer wipes down a desk in a classroom at the Jesse Franklin Taylor Education Center in Des Moines, Iowa. An aggressive push by Iowa's staunchly pro-Trump Gov. Kim Reynolds to reopen schools amid the state's worsening coronavirus outbreak has descended into chaos, with some districts and teachers rebelling and experts questioning the data metrics. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall File)

DES MOINES, Iowa — An Iowa law that bans school districts from issuing mask mandates cannot be enforced until a lawsuit against Gov. Kim Reynolds and the Iowa Department of Education is resolved, a federal judge ruled Friday.

A group of 11 parents of students with disabilities filed the lawsuit in early September, arguing it endangers the kids' health and denies them equal access to education.

The lawsuit is in conjunction with The Arc of Iowa and is backed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). It is independent from another lawsuit over the ban filed by a Council Bluffs woman on Aug. 24, which is in district court.

The ACLU argues the ban on mask mandates violates the Americans with Disabilities Act  (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act.

Judge Robert Pratt wrote Friday that while a preliminary injunction is an "extraordinary remedy," the move is necessary due to "the irreparable harm that could befall" Iowa schoolchildren.

Many central Iowa school districts implemented mask mandates following a Sept. 13 temporary restraining order which kept the law from going into effect.

That order was extended for another 14 days on Sept. 27.

Friday's order keeps the law from going into effect until the legal process concludes.

Local 5 spoke with Iowa State Education Association President Mike Beranek, who said he supports the judge's decision. 

"The announcement by the federal judge today reaffirms what we have believed since the very beginning of this pandemic, and that is to allow school districts to make the choice which is appropriate for their community," he said. "The number one goal is for school districts to be able to make the decision at the local level. And this decision today by the judge allows that to continue. Now, I'm not saying that every district in the state should go through the process of a mask mandate, but this is allowing them to have that conversation."

"And we are pleased that the judge recognizes the importance of local control when making these kind of decisions."

“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," Reynolds said in a statement. "We will defend the rights and liberties afforded to all American citizens protected by our constitution."

The Iowa law in question states:

The board of directors of a school district, the superintendent or chief administering officer of a school or school district, and the authorities in charge of each accredited nonpublic school shall not adopt, enforce, or implement a policy that requires its employees, students, or members of the public to wear a facial covering for any purpose while on the school district's or accredited nonpublic school's property unless the facial covering is necessary for a specific extracurricular or instructional purpose, or is required by section 280.10 or 280.11 or any other provision of law.

Democratic Senator Herman Quirmbach, who's a ranking member on the education committee, says he supports this decision and school districts having the power to make their own decisions. 

"Here in Ames, our school district has adopted a mask mandate," said Quirmbach. "I think that that's appropriate. Most, if not all counties in Iowa, are currently designated as high transmission areas."

Pratt writes that pediatric cases of COVID-19 have "exploded" and that "universal masking is necessary to reduce the spread of the virus" citing a May 2021 brief from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

A request for comment from the governor's office was not immediately returned, but filings show the state has appealed the ruling to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.

This is a breaking news story and will be updated

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Read the full court order