Federal appeals court rules mask mandate ban must include exception for disabled children
coyot / Pixabay
Federal appeals court rules mask mandate ban must include exception for disabled children

The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit Tuesday ruled that plaintiffs in The Arc of Iowa v. Kimberly Reynolds are entitled to a preliminary injunction. Under the terms of the injunction, Iowa’s ban on school mask mandates must include an exception for schools with disabled students who are at elevated risk due to COVID-19.

The three-judge panel consisted of Judges Benton, Kelly, and Erickson. Judge Benton wrote the court’s opinion, and Erickson dissented.

On May 20, 2021, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds signed Iowa Code Section 280.31 and banned schools from enacting mask requirements. Parents of disabled children sued to block the law because it put their children at risk. One student, “S.V.,” has cerebral palsy, a brain injury, and suffers from strokes and epilepsy. S.V.’s doctors informed his parents that he could suffer severe seizures and brain damage if he contracts COVID-19.

Benton explained that mask requirements are reasonable accommodations for children with disabilities like S.V., especially because some schools do not offer remote-learning options or require vaccinations. The district court enacted a general injunction of Section 280.31 for all schools. The appeals court narrowed the scope of the injunction, saying it is necessary only for schools attended by students “whose disabilities require accommodations in the form of mask requirements in order to safely be present in their schools.”

In his dissent, Erickson criticized the court’s ruling, saying his fellow judges should not have excused the administrative exhaustion requirement. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), plaintiffs must seek administrative remedies for their complaints before turning to courts. Erickson also noted that the mask mandate ban was passed by the Iowa state legislature and Governor Reynolds. He argued that legislative actions are entitled to more deference from courts.