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A federal judge Friday extended an order that will prevent state officials from enforcing a law that prohibits school districts from implementing mask requirements until a federal lawsuit challenging the law can be heard.

Judge Robert Pratt had earlier issued a temporary restraining order preventing Gov. Kim Reynolds and Department of Education Director Ann Lebo from enforcing the law Reynolds signed in May.

The order entered Friday issues a preliminary injunction that continues to prohibit the state from enforcing the law until the court case can be decided.

Lawyers for Reynolds and Lebo immediately filed notice of an appeal with the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which could reverse Pratt’s order or keep it in place.

“We will never stop fighting for the rights of parents to decide what is best for their children and to uphold state laws enacted by our elected legislators. We will defend the rights and liberties afforded to all American citizens protected by our constitution,” Reynolds said in a statement.

Eleven parents and The Arc of Iowa, a group that defends the civil rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, sued the state on Sept. 3. They claim the law substantially increases the risk of several children with health conditions of contracting COVID-19 and that it violates federal laws including the Americans with Disabilities Act.

One of the lawyers representing them, ACLU of Iowa Legal Director Rita Bettis Austen said the judge’s action means schools are able to contintue to provide mask requirements “to meet the needs of kids in their district who have disabilities, including underlying conditions, making them vulnerable to serious illness, hospitalization, or death from COVID-19, in accordance with federal law.”

Pratt cited the current trajectory of pediatric COVID-19 cases in Iowa since the start of the school year and the irreparable harm that could befall the children involved in this case as reasons for the order.

At least two dozen Iowa school districts have implemented mask requirements since Pratt’s initial order on Sept. 13. They include the state’s largest public school district in Des Moines. Also Ames, Ankeny, Burlington, Cedar Rapids and Council Bluffs.

“Many of the largest school districts in the state, as well as several smaller districts, quickly acted to adopt universal masking policies to ensure the protection of almost one-third of Iowa’s public school children,” Pratt wrote.

He added that a preliminary injunction is an extraordinary remedy but necessary given the current trajectory of pediatric COVID-19 cases in Iowa, the irreparable harm that could be caused to the children in this case and the important public interests at stake.

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