Iowa under investigation for statewide ban on mask mandates

The U.S. Department of Education has opened an investigation against five states, Iowa among them, for whether ban on mask mandates discriminates against immunocompromised students.


Ayrton Breckenridge

Gov. Kim Reynolds (R-Iowa) listens to people after Ashley Hinson’s BBQ Bash on Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021 at Linn County Fairgrounds.

Lauren White, Politics Reporter

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has opened an investigation into the state of Iowa to decide whether a statewide prohibition mask mandates discriminates against students with disabilities who have a heightened risk of contracting COVID-19 by preventing them from safely accessing in-person education.

Iowa is one of five states that is under investigation. The other states are Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Utah.

U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardonan said in a press release on Aug. 30 that the Department of Education has heard from parents of students with disabilities from across the country about how state bans on mask mandates are putting children at risk.

“The Department will fight to protect every student’s right to access in-person learning safely and the rights of local educators to put in place policies that allow all students to return to the classroom full-time in-person safely this fall,” Cardonan said.

The investigation will look into the state’s compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which guarantees students with disabilities the right to a free appropriate public education in elementary and secondary school, the press release said.

Additionally, the investigation will explore if prohibitions of universal mask mandates violate Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

On Aug, 18, President Joe Biden issued a Presidential Memorandum directing the Secretary of Education to “assess all available tools in taking action, as appropriate and consistent with applicable law” so that governors and other officials are giving all students the opportunity to participate in safe in-person learning.

Gov. Kim Reynolds responded to the investigation by composing a tweet where she said that Biden decided to pick a political fight with specific governors to “distract from his own failures.”

Iowa City Community School District Board Member Lisa Williams said that the board takes compliance with students’ IEP and 504 plans seriously and will look to the Iowa Department of Education and students’ safety to make any necessary changes.

The Office of Civil Rights is a neutral factfinder, the press release said, and aims to collect and analyze relevant evidence from state education agencies and other sources as appropriate prior to reaching determinations in these matters.

“Opening a directed investigation does not imply that OCR has decided whether there has been a violation of a law that OCR enforces,” the press release said.