UPDATED FOR CLARITY: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled that the Rehab Act requires schools to impose universal masking rules where necessary to ensure students with disabilities have access to public school education. The court held that the plaintiffs are entitled to a preliminary injunction to ensure that the defendant school districts in Iowa are providing for universal masking as a reasonable accommodation for students with disabilities.
In a press release from the American Civil Liberties Union, the ruling was made so students with disabilities can go to school safely:
The Eighth Circuit affirmed what we’ve known to be true from the start: School mask mandate bans are discriminatory and illegal. To be able to attend schools safely, many students with disabilities need their schools to require masks. At a time when COVID-19 is ravaging our communities once again, this decision ensures that schools can continue to take basic public health precautions like requiring universal masking to protect their students.Susan Mizner, director of the ACLU’s Disability Rights Program
Iowa’s law banning mask mandates in schools will be reinstated after a federal court struck down a district court’s decision to block it.
Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds signed a bill into law May 2021, banning mask mandates across the state. The bill prevented K-12 schools in Iowa from being able to mandate the use of facemasks. It also prevented Iowa cities and counties from requiring masks in businesses.
The Arc of Iowa and a group of Iowa parents of children with serious disabilities that place them at heightened risk of severe injury or death from COVID19, sued to prohibit enforcement of Iowa’s law prohibiting mask requirements in schools. The district court ruled that the law violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and granted a preliminary injunction, completely enjoining the law. Twenty-four school districts reimposed some form of mask requirements
Gov. Reynolds appealed the district court’s entry of the preliminary injunction, arguing that the “plaintiffs lack standing, failed to exhaust administrative remedies, and that the district court abused its discretion in granting the preliminary injunction.” The judges ruled the parents had standing, but the district court’s injunction was too broad to address the needs of the parents suing.
The case is to go back to district court, so the injunction can be limited to involve only the schools the children of the plaintiffs attend. The appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Iowa – Central can be viewed here.