In response to Tuesday's federal appellate court ruling, the Burlington School District has suspended its mask mandate.
In a statement released Wednesday morning, the district announced that students, staff and visitors will no longer be required to wear masks.
The suspension of the mandatory mask-wearing policy is effective immediately, but students, staff and visitors can still wear masks if they choose to.
“Our district will adhere to and follow guidance from our legal counsel and respect the decision of the courts,” Superintendent Pat Coen said in the statement.
The move comes just two days after the Burlington School Board approved a measure that would have continued to enforce the district's mask mandate in all school buildings during regular school activities, but no longer require them during after-school activities, including basketball games or concerts.
In September, a federal judge issued a temporary order that stopped the state's ability to enforce the mask mandate ban, siding with parents of several students with disabilities who argued their children were being denied equal access to education without universal masking due to to the higher risk their children would have if they contracted COVID-19.
Since, area parents opposed to mandatory masking have spoken against the policy at numerous board meetings.
In October, the board approved a mask-wearing tier system to establish guidelines based on Des Moines County's seven-day positivity rates about when masking would be required of students, staff and the public within district buildings.
On Tuesday, a federal appellate court ruled that families and disability advocates who sued their school districts to require mask would be able to continue pursuing their lawsuits. But the court also struck down an injunction allowing all schools statewide to enforce mandatory masking rules if they chose to.
In response to Tuesday's ruling, after consulting with the district's legal counsel, attorney Brett Nitzschke of the Cedar Rapids law firm Lynch Dallas P.C., and in accordance with the applicable laws, the district concluded it no longer had the ability to mandate mask-wearing, according to a statement from Savannah Prescott, community relations coordinator for the district.
Prescott reiterated that the federal court's ruling did not impact the federal mandate requiring masks to be worn on school buses, where masks will continue to be required.
Despite the suspension of the mask mandate, the district said it plans to continue with other COVID mitigation measures in place and strongly encourage the use of masks within schools.
"Due to the fact that mask mandates are the subject of ongoing litigation, as the District becomes aware of additional developments in the future, the District will review and assess those developments and determine the best course of action to take for the District, its students, and its staff members," Prescott said in the statement. "The District appreciates the ongoing community support as it continues to navigate through all of the issues related to COVID-19."
In response to the end of the district's mask mandate, School Board member Scott Mason told The Hawk Eye that, while he had been hopeful the board would be able to come to a compromise on the mask-wearing debate, he realizes that the board will have to respect the decision to end the mask mandate and move forward with other issues.
"This is going to obviously satisfy the people who have been against the mask mandate from the beginning, and that's fine," Mason said. "I'm not 100% either direction. ...You support the people who make the decisions above you, just as we've asked people to support the decisions we make within our district. And so we move forward and, hopefully, over time, (the mask-wearing issue) will sort itself out."
Newly elected board member Christi Burghoffer, who advocated that mask-wearing be a choice for families during her campaign, told The Hawk Eye she was pleased with the district's decision, but stressed that her involvement on the board during the mask-wearing debate has exposed her to opinions on both sides of the issue.
"I think it's just great that parents have the choice now and that people can absolutely still wear the masks if that's what's best for their family," Burghoffer said. "For me, it's always been really about (providing) the best learning environment for the kids. Our job is education. ...I appreciate all the opinions. It has been nice to be able to hear from people on both sides of the issue and to able to work with people with different views. I think that helps us grow as a district and as a community."
Board member Darven Kendell told The Hawk Eye that, although he is disappointed that the mask policy is gone for the time being, he said the district needs to respect the court's ruling.
"I hope that staff and students can realize that there is nothing preventing them from wearing a mask, and if they wish to do that, I encourage them to do so," Kendell said.
This article originally appeared on The Hawk Eye: Mask mandate suspended in Burlington schools after court ruling