A federal court ruling on Monday temporarily blocked a new state law that bans mask mandates in schools, which led several large school districts in the state to quickly reimpose the mask requirements for students and staff.
Local school leaders have yet to decide how to proceed.
“We are in discussion with our diocesan school office,” Kuemper Catholic President John Steffes said Tuesday. “Until then, we are continuing as we have so far this school year with existing mitigation strategies.”
The Diocese of Sioux City announced Wednesday that it will not institute mask mandates at its schools and noted that the ban that was lifted applied only to public schools.
Superintendent Casey Berlau of the Carroll Community schools was also unsure whether the district might implement a mask requirement. The next school board meeting is set for Thursday, Sept. 23.
“This information is very new, so we haven’t made any decisions as a result of the judge’s decision yesterday,” Berlau said Tuesday.
Kuemper required masks all of last school year to help guard against the coronavirus. Carroll began last school year without a requirement but was forced to impose one in November to stem the large number of students who were required to quarantine because of their unmasked exposure to infected students. At the time, more than 170 students were in quarantine at home for up to two weeks.
The Carroll school board rescinded the mask mandate in May when less than two weeks of school remained and new confirmed cases in the county had dwindled. Days later, Gov. Kim Reynolds signed the law that prohibited school districts, cities and counties from imposing mask mandates.
Masks have been optional so far this school year for students and staff, and most do not wear them, school officials have said.
It’s unclear how the number of infected students and staff this year compares with last year because coronavirus infections aren’t being strictly tracked and investigated as they were last year.
State officials have directed schools to deal with coronavirus infections in the same manner they do influenza infections. Schools are expected to report to the state when at least 10 percent of students are absent because they are ill.
The new law banning local mask mandates is the subject of at least two lawsuits — one in state court, and one in federal — that argue it endangers the health of students, especially those younger than 12 who cannot yet be vaccinated and those with medical conditions that increase the risk of severe symptoms or death.
U.S. District Court Judge Robert Pratt issued a temporary restraining order on Monday in the federal case that blocks the ban of mask mandates in schools.
“The court recognizes issuing a (temporary restraining order) is an extreme remedy, however, if the drastic increase in the number of pediatric COVID-19 cases since the start of the school year in Iowa is any indication of what is to come, such an extreme remedy is necessary to ensure that the children involved in this case are not irreparably harmed,” Pratt wrote.
In the past week, 29 percent of new confirmed coronavirus cases in Iowa have been children ages 17 and younger, which is more than double the average percentage of last year, according to state data.
There were 77 new confirmed cases reported for Carroll County as of Wednesday for the past week, the largest one-week increase since early January. Of those, 13 were children, state data show.
Reynolds said the state will appeal the judge’s decision.
“A federal judge unilaterally overturned a state law, ignored the decision by our elected legislature and took away parents’ ability to decide what’s best for their child,” Reynolds said Monday.