Appeals court partially reinstates mask mandate ban in Iowa K-12 schools, IC schools to keep mandate

The court reaffirmed that the parents have standing to sue the governor but said the previous decision was too broad.


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Backpack of school child with face mask and sanitizer.

Caleb McCullough, Executive Editor

Not all Iowa K-12 schools may be allowed to mandate masks, a federal appeals court ruled on Tuesday, reversing a federal judge’s decision blocking a state law that prohibited mask mandates in schools. In Iowa City, the mandate will remain, school board member Lisa Williams said. 

In the ruling, the panel of three judges said the district court’s ruling last year, which put a blanket pause on the state law, was written too broadly. 

In September 2021, a group of parents and the ARC of Iowa sued Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds over the law, which prevented schools, cities, and counties from requiring masks. 

The parents argued that it discriminated against their children with disabilities and put them at high risk for injury. 

In a decision in that same month, a judge for the District Court of the Southern District of Iowa agreed, saying the state law discriminated against students with disabilities in K-12 schools. The court granted a temporary injunction which allowed all schools in Iowa to mandate masks. 

The appellate court on Tuesday said that order was too broad, and the injunction should not apply to schools that the suing parents’ children do not attend. 

“Plaintiffs are not harmed by the absence of mask requirements at schools their children do not attend,” Judge Duane Benton wrote in the decision. “Further, to the extent that some schools in Iowa do not encounter anyone whose disabilities require the schools to make others wear masks, Section 280.31 may prohibit those schools from imposing mask requirements without violating federal disability law.”

Because the Iowa City Community School District is one of the 10 schools named as defendants in the injunction, school board member Lisa Williams said the mask mandate in the school still stands.

“My understanding is that tomorrow, our district wide mandate remains in effect. We’re going to keep it in effect,” she said.

Williams said the school won’t see any major changes until the district court releases a more specific injunction, and the school has time to interpret that law.

The appellate court agreed with much of the district court’s previous ruling, saying the parents who sued the state have standing to sue and have demonstrated a likelihood of injury to their children.

Some Iowa schools may be allowed, or required, to mandate masks under federal disability law, Benton wrote. But contrary to the district court, he said federal law does not conflict with the state law prohibiting mask requirements.

The law, spelled out in Iowa Code Section 280.31, says that schools cannot require students to wear a face covering, unless it is required by “any other provision of law.” This section, the appellate panel wrote, allows schools to mandate masks under federal disability law, if applicable, without contradicting state law.

“This Court holds that Section 280.31 allows mask requirements that are necessary to comply with the [Rehabilitation Act] or [Americans with Disabilities Act], and is thus not conflict-preempted by these laws,” the court decision states.


The appellate court reversed the district court’s decision, and the case will go back to the district court with instructions to revise the injunction.