The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled recently that the Americans with Disabilities Act can require masks in schools. The plaintiffs were parents of children who are medically fragile or unable to wear masks, challenging an Iowa law that prohibited schools from requiring masks. The parents argued that the only way to protect their children from the coronavirus was to require other students and teachers to wear masks in schools. The federal district court granted a preliminary injunction, finding that the mask requirement was a reasonable accommodation under the ADA.
The appellate court agreed that masks are a reasonable accommodation for children covered by the ADA. It found, though, that the district court’s injunction was too broad. “Plaintiffs are not harmed by the absence of mask requirements at schools their children do not attend. Further, to the extent that some schools in Iowa do not encounter anyone whose disabilities require the schools to make others wear masks, [the Iowa law] may prohibit those schools from imposing mask requirements without violating federal disability law.”
This case involved a preliminary injunction, so it will be interesting to see if and how the state defends its law as the case moves into discovery. The science on COVID, including new variants, is moving much faster than bureaucracies or courts. For now, both public and private schools in the Eighth Circuit (Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota) will have to require masks for those who come in contact with medically fragile children.