116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Finally, we glimpsed an island of sanity in a sea of cruel indifference.
U.S. District Court Judge Robert Pratt issued an order this week temporarily halting the enforcement of a Republican-backed state law prohibiting school districts from mandating the use of face masks to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Several districts have moved to put mask mandates back in place.
Unlike the dubious claims we’ve been hearing for months from Gov. Kim Reynolds, Pratt issued a clearly-written, 29-page order siding with 11 families who argue the mandate ban denies their children with disabilities and serious health problems access to public schools. Denying access, they contend, violates federal protections for people with disabilities. It’s a temporary but significant win.
Pratt discusses how the delta variant of COVID is spreading rapidly in Iowa schools. He details evidence that children with an array of disabilities and illnesses are at a higher risk of developing serious complications or even dying of COVID-19. Pratt points to research showing universal masking can control the spread of the virus and make in-person schooling considerably safer.
Without universal masking, attending class is dangerous both for children with disabilities and their siblings, who might bring the virus home from school.
“In person learning is essential for children,” Pratt wrote in the order.
“Depriving these children of their education when a safe learning option is available, i.e., in-person learning with universal masking, most certainly constitutes an irreparable harm,” he wrote.
At the core of the court filing are the families and their children.
There are the kids from Davenport and Johnston who struggle with asthma. One family in Waterloo has two kids, ages 5 and 11. The younger child has Down syndrome, chromic seizures and respiratory problems. The older kid has sickle cell anemia, a compromised immune system and other ailments.
In Ankeny there’s a child with brain malformation by congenital infection, among other health issues, and uses a feeding tube. In Council Bluffs there’s a student with periventricular leukomalacia, a softening of brain tissue, autism, cerebral palsy and other disabilities.
A family from Des Moines has two kids, one with a rare disease that causes significant heart defects and lung conditions and one with hypertension, kidney disease, seizures and other conditions. Another Des Moines child has Down syndrome and other maladies. In my own Linn-Mar district a plaintiff’s child suffers from Williams syndrome, with slow growth, heart problems, gastrointestinal issues and a learning disability. A child in Decorah suffers from cerebral palsy and has a history of strokes.
All are under age 12, so they can’t get vaccinated.
The governor says she will use “every legal option” to fight these families. Instead of helping Iowans who already face barriers to keep their kids in school, Reynolds is determined to make their lives harder. Collecting red state political points and taking a Fox News victory lap are far more important.
Reynolds will continue to throw in with the small cadre of loudmouths who insist the simple act of putting on a mask to protect their community is tantamount to tyranny. “Freedom” in Iowa is only for Reynolds’ partisan pals, big donors and COVID deniers. The rest of us can only cling to the island.
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