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Following federal judge's order, North Iowa schools have option to mandate masks
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Following federal judge's order, North Iowa schools have option to mandate masks

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DES MOINES — A federal judge on Monday ordered the state of Iowa to immediately halt enforcement of a law passed in May that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Judge Robert Pratt said in an order signed Monday that the law substantially increases the risk of several children with health conditions of contracting COVID-19.

Pratt said he has looked at data on the effectiveness of masks to reduce spread of the virus and agrees with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics on mask wearing in schools.

"Because Plaintiffs have shown that Iowa Code section 280.31’s ban on mask mandates in schools substantially increases their risk of contracting the virus that causes COVID-19 and that due to their various medical conditions they are at an increased risk of severe illness or death, Plaintiffs have demonstrated that an irreparable harm exists," he wrote.

His order said Gov. Kim Reynolds and Iowa Department of Education Director Ann Lebo cannot enforce the new law banning local school districts from using their discretion to mandate masks for students, staff, teachers and visitors.

He issued a temporary restraining order to be in effect immediately. It remains in effect until the court issues an order for a preliminary injunction.

Several parents and The Arc of Iowa, a group that defends the civil rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities sued the state.

Clear Lake Community School District Superintendent Doug Gee said that he isn't sure if this decision will have an impact on the school district yet, and that it needs to be discussed with the board of education. 

"We haven’t talked about it as a board yet," Gee said. "We would like to make an educated decision about this."

Barb Schwamman, the superintendent for both Osage's and Riceville's school districts, echoed the comments from Gee. 

"What will happen is it will go back to our board,” Schwamman said. "School boards will be able to make those decisions ... There's a lot to discuss." 

Schwamman also went on to say that her school districts, and likely most others in the area, won't be coming to any decisions in the next few days, especially as an appeal to the decision may be coming.   

West Hancock Superintendent Wayne Kronemann said that for at least right now, he does not anticipate a mask mandate in his district. 

"I believe I can speak on behalf of the school and that we will not be mandating masks for the time being," Kronemann said. "Considering our current mitigations and our current numbers in the county, state, and mostly our school district."

Kronemann does say that it may still be discussed in the district's board meeting on Monday, Sept. 20. 

As of Monday afternoon, Mason City Community School District Superintendent Dave Versteeg and Forest City Superintendent Darwin Lehmann did not return requests for comment.   

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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