DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The lawyer representing Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds in a federal lawsuit over mandatory mask use in schools has asked the judge to allow a temporary order that has allowed schools to implement mask mandates to expire next week, citing testimonials from mothers of school-age children who make unproven assertions that masks can harm children.
In documents made public Monday, the state provided testimonials from three women who said their children have medical issues that makes mask wearing difficult for them. That included an Ankeny mother who said her son has asthma and when he wears a mask he “does not receive an adequate amount of clean oxygen and is constantly breathing in germs," a claim not supported by science.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend mask wearing in schools as the delta coronavirus variant is spreading rapidly in much of the country. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America said those with asthma should wear masks.
The Ankeny woman also said her son is immune deficient but she believe it is in his best interest to attend school without wearing a mask as he washes his hands and takes other normal health precautions. This also would be contrary to common medical advice.
Two other women, one from Urbandale and another from Ankeny, said they're concerned masks will hinder the learning ability of their children. One said a universal mask mandate will inhibit their “ability to understand their teachers and interact with their peers, negatively affecting their learning.” The other said she may take her child from the Ankeny school and seek education elsewhere or ask for an exemption from masks.
Schools requiring masks often allow exemptions for certain medical conditions or religious or philosophical objections.
After Judge Robert Pratt issued a restraining order last week prohibiting Reynolds and Iowa Department of Education Director Ann Lebo from enforcing the law Reynolds signed in May, at least 17 school boards have implemented mask mandates and several others were considering it. That has included some of the largest districts, including Des Moines, West Des Moines, Iowa City, Cedar Rapids and Davenport.
Pratt's restraining order is effective until Sept. 27. He indicated he is considering a temporary injunction that will continue to prevent Reynolds and Lebo from enforcing the law until a lawsuit can be heard. Reynolds has said she will appeal Pratt's decision. The appeal would be heard by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Eleven parents and The Arc of Iowa, a group that defends the civil rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, sued the state on Sept. 3. They claimed the law conflicts with the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act. Pratt agreed, saying "it excludes disabled children from participating in and denies them the benefits of public schools’ programs, services, and activities to which they are entitled.”
Pratt concluded that the mask mandate ban makes it dangerous for disabled or immunocompromised children to attend school and dangerous for healthy siblings to attend school in person because they risk carrying the virus back to their disabled or immunocompromised siblings.
The dispute is one of several playing out in school districts nationwide, where parents, school administrators and health officials are battling over enforcement of mask protocols. The U.S. Education Department has opened civil rights investigations in five Republican-led states, including Iowa, that have banned or limited mask requirements in schools.
Reynolds' lawyer in the case is Sam Langholz, the former lawyer for Gov. Kim Reynolds who was hired as an assistant attorney general last November. He argued in court documents that the law preventing school boards from implementing mask requirements is a neutral nondiscriminatory state policy and that mask mandates “are not a reasonable modification to this policy because it would be an undue burden, fundamentally alter the nature of the state’s education program, and infringe on the rights of others.”
Nowhere in the documents does the state acknowledge, as Pratt pointed out in his order, that there have been about 3,500 new COVID-19 cases among Iowa school-aged children since July, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
In the most recent state public health update, children aged 17 and younger made up 29% of the new coronavirus cases in Iowa. Fifteen children under age 17 were hospitalized with COVID-19, including 12 under the age of 11.