School mask mandates can stay in place — judge extends his temporary restraining order against Reynolds administration

Jordan Sellergren/Little Village

On Monday, Judge Robert Pratt extended his temporary restraining order (TRO) that prohibits the state from enforcing the ban on school mask mandates Gov. Kim Reynolds signed into law in May.

“Enforcement of [the school mask mandate ban] continues to pose a threat of irreparable harm to the children’s health and rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act,” Pratt wrote in his eight page decision.

The TRO was issued on Sept. 13, in response to a lawsuit by 11 Iowa families with children attending public schools who are at heightened risk from potential exposure to COVID-19 due to preexisting medical conditions. The lawsuit, filed in federal court on Sept. 3, named Reynolds, Iowa Department of Education Director Ann Lebo and the 10 school districts where the children were enrolled as defendants.

The districts, most of whom had already expressed the desire to institute mask mandates if permitted to do so, did not resist the lawsuit. In his decision Monday, Pratt noted that eight of the 10 districts named in the lawsuit had already reinstated mask requirements. Iowa City Community School District was one of them. An additional 16 school districts around the state have also implemented mask mandates. Cedar Rapids Community School District is among them.

Attorneys for Reynolds and Lebo did file a challenge to the TRO, claiming that the need to maintain uniform school policies regarding masks in every district in Iowa, and the potential that enforcing a mask mandate might prove “distracting” for teachers, outweighed other considerations.

The challenge included affidavits from parents claiming a mask mandate would harm their children. But in one case, it wasn’t her own children wearing a mask the parent was objecting to — both of her sons had qualified for a mask exemption last year — but the possibility that seeing other students, as well as teachers, wearing masks may upset the children and lead to behavioral problems.

Another parent said her child couldn’t wear a mask due to a medical condition, but also said the child had an education plan under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which mandates schools make accommodations for the medical needs of a child. The mother said she had not yet requested a mask exemption.

The third parent stated her son had said he doesn’t want to wear a mask, and she believed that wearing a mask last year had contributed to the behavioral problems he had at school.

The state’s attorney asked Pratt to allow the TRO to expire at the end of its initial 14-day period, which would have been Monday. Instead, the judge extended the TRO for an additional 14 days while he considers whether to issue an preliminary injunction to prevent enforcement of the school mask mandate ban while the matter is before the courts.

“Given the important interests at stake, the Court finds good cause to extend the TRO to fully consider the evidence submitted by the parties, their briefs, and the numerous supplemental documents that have recently been filed,” Pratt wrote. “For these reasons, the Court extends the TRO for an additional fourteen days.”

With this extension, the TRO will remain in place until Oct. 11.

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