On Friday afternoon, attorneys for Gov. Kim Reynolds filed a challenge to the temporary restraining order (TRO) issued by U.S. District Court Judge Robert Pratt on Sept. 13. The TRO prohibits the state from enforcing the new law signed by Reynolds in May that forbid schools and school districts from mandating the use of face masks to limit the spread of COVID-19.
The governor’s attorneys asked Judge Pratt to let the TRO expire next week, so the school mask mandate ban can go back into effect.
Pratt issued the TRO in response to a lawsuit filed by 11 Iowa families with children attending 10 school districts around the state, who are at heightened risk from potential exposure to COVID-19.
“Iowa’s mask mandate ban makes it dangerous for disabled or immunocompromised children to attend school, but several pediatricians opine it is dangerous for healthy siblings to attend school in person because they risk carrying the virus back to their disabled or immunocompromised siblings,” Pratt wrote in his decision.
The judge found the school mask mandate ban “substantially increases the Plaintiff’s children’s risk of contracting… which in turn substantially increases Plaintiff’s children’s risk of severe illness or death.” He noted both the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend universal mask-wearing in schools.
Pratt concluded that allowing schools to mandate masks is a reasonable accommodation to protect the lives and health of students and their families, and failure to make such reasonable accommodations violates the rights of students with disabilities to receive education opportunities equal to those of other students in a safe environment, as guaranteed by the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act.
“Courts presume a violation of a civil rights statute is an irreparable harm,” Pratt wrote.
The arguments put forth by the governor’s attorneys never use the words “illness” or “death,” and the attorneys claim that allowing schools to mandate masks would be “an undue burden” on the state, taking up the time of local school boards that would be better spent on other topics and “distracting teachers and school administrators from their educational duties.”
Modifying the uniform policy established by [the new law] to impose a universal mask mandate in schools—or permitting schools to make those decisions—would be an undue burden and fundamentally alter the nature of the educational program established by the State. Modifying the policy to give schools discretion would void the Legislature’s policy decision to take the highly contentious and emotional issue of masks in schools from the responsibility of local schools, allowing that local leadership to devote their time to under [sic] important concerns. And imposing a universal mask mandate would impose the administrative and potential financial and legal burdens of enforcing a mask mandate on all students, distracting teachers and school administrators from their educational duties.
Appended to the filing are affidavits from three mothers who do not want their children to wear masks in schools.
Pam Gronau has two sons in third grade in the Urbandale School Community School District. Both sons have Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), and both had “behavioral issues” when it came to wearing masks in school last year. Gronau applied for exemptions from the mask requirement for her sons last year, and both were exempted.
Following Pratt’s decision, Urbandale schools reinstated their masking requirement beginning Sept. 20. In her affidavit dated Sept. 17, Gronau said she has requested exemptions for her sons again, but even if they are granted, she remains “concerned that [her sons] will continue to struggle if their teachers and many of their peers are required to wear a mask.”
The other two affidavits concern students in the Ankeny Community School District.
Kendra Packer has a daughter in fifth grade, who has been diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder, which makes wearing a mask painful and distressing for her. Packer does not say if she requested an exemption from mask-wearing for her daughter last year, but does say her daughter has a 504 Plan, which is similar to an IEP. Under federal law, a school must make take reasonable steps to accommodate the medical needs of a student with a 504 Plan, so presumably Packer’s daughter’s school would grant her an exemption.
In her affidavit, Packer said that if Ankeny schools adopt a mask mandate, she would attempt to transfer her daughter to a district without one. If the transfer wasn’t possible, then she would request an exemption.
The other Ankeny schools parent, Stacey Givens, has a son in second grade with an IEP. According to Givens, wearing a mask at school last year caused her son “anxiety that led to increased behavioral issues.” Her son “is adamant that he does not want to wear a mask again,” and she is concerned he was have the same behavioral issues he did last year, if required to do so.
Givens’ son also has asthma, and she contends he “does not receive an adequate amount of clean oxygen and is constantly breathing in germs” while wearing a mask, which she believes may make his asthma worse. None of the peer-reviewed studies of mask-wearing have found any evidence that it exacerbates asthma.
“After speaking with [his] primary care provider, I believe it is in [my son’s] best interest to attend school, without wearing a mask, so long as he washes his hands and takes other normal health precautions,” Givens stated in her affidavit.
It is worth noting she doesn’t say it was the care provider’s opinion that her son go to school without a mask, or that the provider agreed handwashing is adequate protection against virus spread by airborne droplets.
Ankeny schools do not currently have a mask mandate. The school board will vote on it at its formal session on Tuesday night. The city has, however, seen a lot of anti-mask activity.
Last month, several members of the school board received postcards warning them against requiring masks, which they couldn’t do at the time, or COVID-19 vaccination, which they still can’t do. The postcards, delivered to their homes, called mask-wearing “child abuse” and vaccines “clot shots.”
During a special meeting of the school board last week to discuss Judge Pratt’s ruling what the district’s next steps should be, anti-mask protesters gathered outside the meeting, including one who drove a van with QAnon insignia.
This guy, who showed up in the Q-Anon emblazoned van seen in the background, had this to say outside the Ankeny school board meeting: pic.twitter.com/XdhyztGmxx
— Iowa Starting Line (@IAStartingLine) September 15, 2021
Sarah Barthole, one of Ankeny’s most visible opponents of mask mandates, is running for the school board. Gov. Reynolds attended Barthole’s campaign kickoff event on Aug. 31, and endorsed her. It’s extremely unusual for a governor to endorse a school board candidate.
Barthole attributed Reynolds’ endorsement to their shared values, including their opposition to mask mandates.
“The governor and I do share the same goal of the importance of having your kids go to school full time and letting parents decide what’s best for them if, you know, they wear masks at school, and not the government,” she said.
The TRO Judge Pratt issued is scheduled to expire on Sept. 27. Pratt is considering issuing a temporary injunction in its place, which would prevent the state from enforcing its school mask mandate ban.