Disability Law

8th Circuit rules for parents seeking school mask mandates because of their children's disabilities

  • Print

mask and gavel

Image from Shutterstock.

A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that an Iowa law banning mask mandates at public schools shouldn’t be read to prevent masks when needed to accommodate children’s disabilities.

But the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at St. Louis said a federal judge’s injunction blocking a ban on mask mandates at all Iowa public schools was too broad.

The 8th Circuit ruled in a lawsuit contending that Iowa’s mask ban in schools violated federal disability law. The plaintiffs contended that the law requires accommodations for their children, who have disabilities that put them at risk of severe complications from COVID-19.

The appeals court said the federal judge’s injunction should be narrowed to prevent mask bans in schools attended by the plaintiffs’ children, rather than in all state schools.

The court said the parents will likely succeed on their claim that mask requirements are a reasonable accommodation, and failure to provide the accommodation likely violates Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Section 504 says no one should be excluded because of a disability from any program that receives federal financial assistance.

The court said the Iowa school mask ban has an exception that allows mask wearing where required by federal law. As a result, the Iowa law does not conflict with federal law, and the state should be barred from a contrary reading.

U.S. Circuit Judge Duane Benton wrote the majority opinion. U.S. Circuit Judge Ralph Erickson dissented, arguing that the injunction should not have been granted because the plaintiffs were required to exhaust administrative remedies under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Rita Bettis Austen, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, said in a press release the reasoning of the majority decision affects more than just the plaintiffs.

The decision “means that even schools that are not named in the lawsuit should be requiring masks when needed to accommodate students with disabilities, so they can go to school with their peers,” she said.

The suit was filed on behalf of the Arc of Iowa and 11 parents of children with disabilities. They were represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Iowa, Disability Rights Iowa, the Arc of the United States, Arnold & Porter and the Duff Law Firm.

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.