Parents of Iowa Students With Disabilities Challenge School Mask Ban in Court

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A group of parents of children with disabilities in Iowa is challenging the school mask ban imposed by Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds. In a federal lawsuit filed at a Des Moines court Friday, the parents argued that public schools without a mask mandate are unconstitutional because they exclude their children from access to education.

Rita Bettis Austen, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), who is helping with the parents' lawsuit, told the Des Moines Register that those kids with disabilities are forced to be "out of school" because the school mask ban puts their health at risk.

The parents are asking the court to block Reynolds' order so that public schools may impose their own rules on wearing face masks. They also argued in the lawsuit that their kids are too young to get a vaccination and their disabilities, like cerebral palsy, make them highly susceptible to severe COVID-19 symptoms if infected.

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Aside from the Iowa governor, the state's Department of Education Director Ann Lebo is also named in the lawsuit. The group of parents belongs to several school districts like Des Moines, Ankeny, Davenport, Iowa City, and Waterloo.

'It's the Law'

But Reynolds said during a press conference that she won't reply to comments about imposing a school mask mandate because it "doesn't matter anymore" as the ban is now a law. The governor also told parents not to panic amid the surge of cases in the country as serious illness in children is minimal.

She said that parents also informed her that their kids have severe reactions to face masks. Some parents have also told the governor that they think a mask may impede their children's learning.

Reynolds reiterated that parents could enroll in an online-only class with pre-recorded lessons and no live interaction with the teachers. However, Susan Mizner, the director of ACLU's disability program, said this option is "particularly inappropriate" for children with disabilities who should have hands-on interaction.

In May, Reynolds signed a law banning school mask mandates written by Iowa lawmakers who "listened" to their constituents. Iowa Department of Public Health director Kelly Garcia was in the same conference and revealed that she lets her child wear a face mask in school since the law doesn't stop parents from making this choice for their kids.

More Lawsuits in Other States

Iowa isn't the only state with a lawsuit on school mask ban as Arizona, Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas have pending cases as well. A judge in Florida has already issued a ruling citing that the ban is unlawful.

Meanwhile, President Joe Biden has asked for a civil rights investigation into the lawsuits in South Carolina and Tennessee. The president has previously instructed the Department of Education to challenge any policy that imposes a school mask ban.

Mizner described these policies as a "slap in the face to students with disabilities," adding that the risk of the virus applies to all people. She said that distance learning or online learning is not an option for some families; thus, their needs must also be accommodated.

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