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Lawsuit Targets State Ban on School Mask Mandates

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Schools cannot require students and staff to wear masks, but a new lawsuit aims to put that decision up to local school boards.

The mother of two Council Bluffs elementary students is suing Gov. Kim Reynolds and the Iowa Department of Education over a law that bans school districts from requiring masks.

A Council Bluffs parent filed a lawsuit this week challenging a new state law that prohibits school districts from requiring students and teachers to wear masks to guard against the coronavirus.

Fran Mierzwa Parr brought the court challenge because she says she wants to make in-person learning as safe as possible for her twin sons entering first grade.

It is the first suit filed against the state ban on school mask mandates passed in May, known as HF847. At the time, Par said the pandemic seemed like less of a concern, but the delta variant has changed that.

“This isn't the COVID of last year, or even May,” Parr said. “This is a totally different, sticky variant.”

Parr said the change in the virus should be reflected in a change in policy.

“First and foremost, I hope we get some recognition of the risk that this delta variant really is to the unvaccinated and to children.”

The lawsuit names Gov. Kim Reynolds, the Iowa Department of Education, IDOE Director Ann Lebo and Iowa Department of Public Health Director Kelly Garcia.

It asks a Polk County judge to require Reynolds to issue a universal mask mandate for students in Iowa, at least until schools are able to arrange separate classrooms for students who choose to wear a mask apart from those who choose not to wear one.

Reynolds has said she continues to believe parents should decide whether their children wear masks at school.

The CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics have recommended universal mask wearing in schools, in particular to prevent the virus from spreading among students under 12 years old who cannot be vaccinated. Parr said a mandate would reinforce the importance of using a mask to protect others.

“Some kids will get it, the older kids, but a six year old — I can't trust him to not pick his nose and wipe his butt,” Parr said. “It's just a six-year-old. We have to we have to be the adults help them out.”

Council Bluffs schools started classes on Monday. Parr said she wants her sons to attend in-person because she noticed last year that they made more progress after moving from virtual learning to a school classroom, but they aren’t going yet.

“In person learning, it can't be replaced. It can't be replicated,” Parr said. “So we want to do in person learning with them and we want to do it safely and we want to manage the risk around it.”

Des Moines Mask Mandate Depends On Governor

Des Moines Public Schools made it clear Wednesday that the district will not go against state law to require students and staff to wear masks.

Leaders of the state’s largest district say many parents have called for a mask mandate, but the state ban on school mask mandates takes away local authority to act on their requests.

In a video message posted online, board chair Dwana Bradley said the district can only require masks if Gov. Reynolds gives permission.

“So far, the governor has declined to do so and she is giving us no indication of how many children will need to be infected before she will consider allowing us to have a mask mandate.

The message was posted after Des Moines schools finished their first day of classes.

Bradley said the district supports CDC recommendations for universal mask-wearing and the schools will continue to encourage students and teachers to follow those guidelines.