Media Contact

Veronica Lorson Fowler, ACLU of Iowa Communications Director

May 16, 2022

Today the 8th Circuit Court made a decision in our lawsuit to protect Iowa students with disabilities that make them vulnerable to COVID.

It’s important to note that the Court did not vacate as moot our lawsuit as a whole. The lawsuit was filed to protect Iowa students with disabilities who need to be protected by masking from COVID from the way the state was enforcing a new Iowa law. That new state law prohibited schools from requiring masking. 

The Court's decision today vacates as moot the district court's preliminary injunction only; the Court's decision allows for the possibility of further litigation in this case.

It’s also very important to note that the court specifically did NOT rule that schools cannot require masking to protect students with disabilities. Today’s decision interprets the new state law to mean that schools can still require masking for students with disabilities that make them particularly susceptible to COVID, under federal disability rights laws. 

 Bottom line: Iowa schools can still require and Iowa parents can still request masking as a reasonable accommodation for students with disabilities under appropriate circumstances. 

The following statement can be attributed to ACLU of Iowa Legal Director Rita Bettis Austen on Eighth Circuit today’s decision in The Arc of Iowa et. al. v. Reynolds et al.

"Today's decision vacates the district court's previous injunction as moot because of changed circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The decision also makes it clear that the federal ADA and Rehabilitation Act require that students with disabilities may need to be accommodated, under appropriate circumstances, by requiring masks in schools. This is the right decision and a victory for the plaintiffs and disability rights.

As Judge Kelly’s opinion summarized (boldfacing added by ACLU):

'Irrespective of the outcome of this litigation, parents of children with disabilities may still seek accommodations to ensure their children may safely access their schools as the COVID-19 pandemic wears on. Section 280.31 explicitly includes an exception when "any other provision of law" requires face coverings. Schools are equipped to determine on an individualized, case-by-case basis—just as schools do for any other type of reasonable accommodation request—whether a mask requirement for certain people or places in the school building is a reasonable accommodation under the ADA and RA. This is what federal law requires, and what Section 280.31—and Defendants who are charged with enforcing it—must allow.'

As recognized by the Court, the state's enforcement of the state law had improperly banned any and all masking prior to our case.

The court leaves open further litigation on behalf of the plaintiffs and other students with disabilities as necessary to ensure that they are not barred from, or denied equal access to, education because of their disabilities."