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Schools control their COVID strategy again, how many will change policies?

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KWWL) - Iowa school districts regained a great deal of independence Monday, after a federal judge ruled Iowa's ban on mask mandates in schools unfairly targeted certain students.

The ruling, issued by U.S. District Court Judge Robert Pratt, is only a temporary restraining order. It will stay in effect until Pratt rules on the preliminary injunction before him.

On Sept. 3, a group of Iowa parents and a disability rights group sued the state over HF847, which makes mask mandates illegal. They argue the law infringes upon their kids' right to a free, safe and fair education.

"The Court recognizes issuing a TRO (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 his decision Monday.

The news broke near the end of business hours Monday, and right before several school boards were set to meet. That was the case in Cedar Rapids.

"I got the information around 4:00, probably the same time as others in this room," Superintendent Noreen Bush said to her school board.

Bush was unwilling to say how CRCSD will respond on Monday night; saying she didn't have the opportunity to speak with their COVID response team and other building officials before the meeting.

However, nearly all of the board members said they want a mask mandate for as long as it's legal.

"As you meet with your team…I know personally I very strongly encourage you to have a mask mandate for our students," board member Cindy Garlock said.

CRCSD is expected to make a decision this week, possibly as early as Tuesday. Waterloo Community School District Superintendent Jane Lindaman said they would talk with their legal counsel before making a decision.

The Iowa City Community School District was a bit more eager. ICCSD did not make a decision immediately but sent a letter to parents saying they "anticipate" passing a mask mandate at their regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday.

Private school Willowwind in Iowa City announced that starting Tuesday, they will be mandating masks regardless of vaccination status.

Des Moines Public Schools announced Monday it will resume its mask mandate for teachers and students on Wednesday.

"We are relieved that schools in Iowa are now allowed to protect these kids, as required by federal law," Rita Bettis said, the head lawyer for ACLU of Iowa. The ACLU is the one of the groups representing the parents in Judge Pratt's case.

Governor Kim Reynolds has said she will explore all legal remedies to fight this. Reynolds says the decision "overrules Iowa's elected legislators" and "takes away parent choice".

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Travis Breese

Reporter, Iowa City

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