by David Pitt
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) – A federal judge on Monday ordered the state of Iowa to immediately stop enforcement of a law ordering school boards to wear masks to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. stops.
Judge Robert Pratt said in an order signed Monday that the law passed in May significantly increased the health conditions of many children at risk of contracting COVID-19.
Pratt said he has seen data on the effectiveness of masks for reducing the spread of the virus and agrees with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics on wearing masks in schools.
“Because the plaintiffs have shown that the prohibition of mask mandatory in schools under Section 280.31 of the Iowa Code substantially increases the risk of contracting the virus that causes COVID-19 and that their various medical conditions cause serious illness or the risk of death is increased, the plaintiff has demonstrated that irreparable harm exists,” he wrote.
Kim Reynolds and Iowa Department of Education Director Ann Labow not enforce a new law banning local school districts from using their discretion to mandate masks for students, staff, teachers and visitors, their order said. can do.
He issued a temporary restraining order with immediate effect. It remains in effect until the court issues a preliminary injunction order.
Eleven Parents and The Arch of Iowa, a group that protects the civil rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, sued the state on Sept.
The controversy is one of several ongoing games in school districts across the country, where parents, school administrators and health officials are struggling to enforce mask protocols. The US Department of Education has launched a civil rights investigation into five Republican-led states, including Iowa, that have banned or limited mask requirements in schools.
Reynolds said in a statement that the judge “unilaterally overturned a state law, ignored the decision of our elected legislature and took away a parent’s ability to decide what was best for their child.” What.”
She said the state would appeal and “exercise every legal option we have to uphold the law of the state and protect the rights and freedoms granted to any American citizen protected by our Constitution.”
Hours after the decision was announced, Des Moines Public Schools superintendent Thomas Ahart said he would reinstate a masked mandate for all students, staff and visitors to the district’s schools starting Wednesday. With approximately 33,000 students, Des Moines Schools is the largest district in the state.
A spokeswoman for the Iowa City school district said the school board will meet on Tuesday to consider its options. A message was sent to district families from Superintendent Matt Degner that said, “We encourage all students and staff to wear masks to school tomorrow because we expect the district to be open to all individuals in school buildings.” Will enforce the requirement of masks.”
Pratt pointed out that it has been nearly 40 years since the US Supreme Court has held that denying free public education to school-age children, regardless of citizenship status, is a violation of the US Constitution.
He added that parents “want Iowa school districts to have the opportunity to comply with federal law and ensure that every child has an education in the least restrictive and most integrated environment without endangering their life or safety.” be received.”
“Iowa’s mask mandate restrictions not only make it dangerous for disabled or immunocompromised children to attend school, but many pediatricians believe it is also dangerous for healthy siblings to attend school in person because They run the risk of passing the virus back to their disabled or immunocompromised siblings,” Pratt said.
He said the AAP has reported nearly 3,500 new COVID-19 cases among Iowa school-aged children since July and that some public schools in Iowa have reported COVID-19 infection rates above 60% of last year’s total for the entire school year. are experiencing.
Children 17 and younger made up 29% of new coronavirus cases in Iowa in the most recent state public health update. Fifteen children under the age of 17 were hospitalized with COVID-19, including 12 children under the age of 11.
Labo has said that any district that violates the law will be referred to the state education board and risk loss of funds.
Pratt also points out that the proposal by parents to halt law enforcement comes on the heels of a US Department of Education investigation into whether Iowa’s mask mandate ban violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act. , which discriminates against school-age children. Handicap.
The parents in the lawsuit claim a similar violation of federal law. They claim that in-person learning is essential and point out that Labow commented in January 2021 that a return to in-person learning is necessary because “students engaged in distance learning are lagging behind academically.”
The parents of these children “thus either lament the choice of sending their children to school with the rest of their age without the mask mandate or swallow the lesser option that is not always available to them – distance learning.” ,” Pratt said.
They concluded that the law appears to conflict with the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act “because it prohibits children with disabilities from participating and deprives them of the benefits of public school programs, services and activities to which they are entitled.”