A judge in Iowa temporarily struck down the state’s ban on school mask mandates Monday, one in a string of court rulings nationwide striking down state policies that restrict school districts from imposing mask mandates, at least temporarily.
U.S. District Judge Robert Pratt sided with Iowa parents who sued the state over its ban on school mask mandates, immediately halting the state measure due to the benefits of mask-wearing and the potential risk to children who are particularly vulnerable to Covid-19.
Arkansas was the first state to have its ban on mask mandates struck down in early August, after parents brought a lawsuit against it and even Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he now regrets enacting the ban on mask mandates in schools.
Oklahoma’s ban on school mask mandates was temporarily suspended in early September until another hearing can take place, though the judge said schools must let parents opt their children out of the mask orders if they so choose.
Tennessee’s executive order against school mask mandates, which required schools to let parents opt out of them, was temporarily struck down in federal court Friday as a judge ruled the policy violated students’ rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Texas voluntarily paused its school mask mandate ban in mid-August while litigation against the state policy plays out, after several court rulings struck down the policy as it applied to specific districts, and Florida’s ban is at least temporarily back in effect after an appeals court reversed a judge’s earlier decision to block the ban.
“If the drastic increase in the number of pediatric COVID-19 cases since the start of the school year in Iowa is any indication of what is to come, such an extreme remedy is necessary to ensure that the children involved in this case are not irreparably harmed,” Pratt wrote in his ruling about his decision to issue a temporary restraining order against the mask ban.
“Today, a federal judge unilaterally overturned a state law, ignored the decision by our elected legislature and took away parents’ ability to decide what’s best for their child,” Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, said in a statement about the ruling. Reynolds said the state would “appeal and exercise every legal option we have” in an effort to reinstate the ban.
In contrast to the rulings striking down the mask mandate bans, the South Carolina Supreme Court has upheld that state’s policy and struck down the city of Columbia’s school mask mandate last week. That ruling narrowly applied to Columbia’s schools, however, and a second lawsuit against the policy is still pending.
What To Watch For
In addition to the states that have already issued rulings on the school mask mandate bans, lawsuits are also playing out in Utah and Arizona that could result in those states’ policies getting either overturned or upheld. The U.S. Department of Education has opened civil rights investigations into states where bans on the mask mandates remain in effect, which could result in them facing potential punishments including prosecution by the U.S. Department of Justice.
State-level policies against school mask mandates have become a particular source of contention as a new school year starts amid the delta variant surge, which has left children ineligible for Covid-19 vaccines particularly vulnerable. In addition to the legal challenges, a slew of school districts in most of the states with mask mandate bans have revolted against the state policies by enacting mask mandates anyway, leading some states to threaten consequences against those who do so. Florida withheld funding from the first two school districts in the state that imposed mask requirements and has moved forward with punishments against other districts—at least before Cooper blocked the ban Wednesday—though that has not dissuaded districts from keeping their mandates in effect. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has also said the state will withhold federal funding from school districts that have mask mandates in place, though the Biden administration has encouraged school districts in Arizona and other states to keep their mask mandates in place. The White House has said districts can use other federal funds allocated to them to make up for any funding cuts they may face from their state governments.
Federal judge temporarily blocks Iowa’s ban on mask mandates in schools (Des Moines Register)