Federal Appeals Court Rules That Federal Law May Require Mask Mandates in Public Schools

Jan 28, 2022

by Jim Layton

In a suit brought by parents of children with serious disabilities, the St. Louis-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit upheld an injunction against an Iowa law barring mask mandates in public schools.

The court held that “mask requirements are reasonable accommodations required by federal disability law to protect the rights of Plaintiffs’ children.” “Reasonable accommodations” for students (and staff) with disabilities are required by the federal Rehabilitation Act.

Prior to the enactment of a 2021 Iowa law barring mask mandates, school districts serving the plaintiffs’ children mandated masks. Those mandates were eliminated when the law became effective. Once the mandate was removed “the vast majority of students and staff did not wear masks” at some of the schools that the plaintiffs’ children attended.

The Eighth Circuit observed that the “ban on mask requirements forces” some students with serious health issues “to forgo critical educational opportunities, including in-person learning with their peers.”  “Plaintiffs have been forced to choose between their children’s lives and the quality of their education.” Comparing face masks to accommodations traditionally required by federal law, the court stated: “Face masks, like wheelchair ramps, render school buildings accessible to a part of the public-students and adults alike-that otherwise could not access them as the rest of the public does.”

The decision came on the appeal of a preliminary injunction, and the case will now return to the district court for a final resolution.

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Missouri Education  – The law firm of Tueth Keeney Cooper Mohan & Jackstadt, P.C. (the “Firm”), has one of the largest and most successful education law groups in the country. The Firm regularly serves the legal counsel needs of approximately 150 school districts throughout Missouri. The Firm also has one of the largest school law practices in Central and Southern Illinois.

Illinois Education – Tueth Keeney is proud to be one of the state’s largest Illinois education law practices. The firm has one of the most experienced groups of attorneys in Central and Southern Illinois dedicated to serving public schools. We regularly represent nearly 150 public school districts, including many districts in Central and Southern Illinois. Our Firm is also regularly appointed by insurers of educational institutions to represent districts in complex or difficult cases involving school or civil rights laws.

Labor and Employment – Tueth, Keeney, Cooper, Mohan & Jackstadt, P.C. has successfully represented a number of businesses, large and small, throughout the Midwest in labor and employment matters. Our broad range of experience includes employment discrimination litigation, wage-hour investigations, affirmative action revision plans development, INS audits, and a variety of traditional labor matters.

James Layton leads the firm’s Appellate practice group and is a member of the firm’s Commercial Litigation, Labor, and Education groups. He assists clients with analysis and presentation of complex legal issues in Missouri and federal courts, both trial and appellate. In addition to handling cases himself and with other attorneys at Tueth Keeney, Jim consults with clients on appellate strategy and assists other counsel in high-stakes, complex appeals.

Jim has briefed and argued cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and before all Missouri appellate courts””including nearly 100 cases before the Missouri Supreme Court. He has represented clients in U.S. district courts and in Missouri circuit courts from Jackson County to the City of St. Louis. He has extensive experience with government-related litigation and state taxation disputes. Jim is a fellow of the American Academy of Appellate Lawyers, a past president of the Bar Association of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, and a past chair of the American Bar Association’s Council of Appellate Lawyers. He is a frequent speaker in the areas of appellate practice and constitutional law, both state and federal.