Parents, disability rights groups sue over Iowa law banning mask mandates

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DES MOINES, Iowa (KCAU) — Iowa disability rights groups and 11 parents of children with disabilities filed a lawsuit Friday challenging an Iowa law that bans school districts from imposing mask mandates in schools.

In a release from the ACLU, they say that children who are too young to be vaccinated with disabilities, including underlying health conditions, are more susceptible to developing severe illness, long-haul symptoms, or even death from COVID-19.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the ACLU of Iowa, Disability Rights Iowa, The Arc of the United States, the Arnold & Porter law firm, and the Duff Law Firm, P.L.C. are representing the 11 parents and The Arc of Iowa.

The ban of the mask mandates discriminates against the students in education by excluding them from public schools and equal access to education, according to the parents and disability rights groups.

The state law, House File 847, prevents school districts from requiring anyone to wear a mask. It was passed by the Iowa Legislature earlier in the year and signed into law by Governor Kim Reynolds.

ACLU of Iowa Legal Director Rita Bettis Austen said the law is “a civil rights violation,” putting vulnerable kids in a dangerous situation.

“We all should be able to agree that it’s not fair to force kids out of school because they have health conditions and disabilities that put them at a higher risk of serious complications from COVID,” Bettis Austen said. “It’s also not fair to require parents to expose their children to these risks just so they can go to school. We are asking the court to block HF 847 so that our schools will be able to require masks when necessary to ensure an equal education for all kids,” Bettis Austen said.

Reynolds defended the law in a press conference Thursday, saying she isn’t convinced about the efficacy of masks.

“It doesn’t really matter because it’s a law at this point. It is a law. It is a law that elected officials that are elected by Iowans and constituents across this state, listened to the people that they represent, passed a bill, sent it to my desk, and it was signed into law,” Reynolds responded before immediately leaving the room without further comment.

One mother, Heather Preston, has two children, one with a rare organ disorder. She said that she knows she can’t always protect her children, but there is a responsibility to protect them from threats. She said her child needs to return to learning in person for his need, but going to a school where not everyone is wearing masks puts him at a risk.

“It’s terrifying for a parent to have to worry every day about the physical safety of their child, and to have to choose between their child keeping up with their education and their child becoming seriously ill, or perhaps even dying. That’s a choice no parent should have to make. I want my children to come home safe from school,” Preston said.

On Monday, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced it was going to investigate IowaOklahomaSouth CarolinaTennessee, and Utah to see if the statewide prohibitions prevent students with disabilities from safely accessing in-person education.

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