Dear Dubuque Schools Families and Staff,

Since the news was announced late Monday afternoon regarding federal court Judge Pratt issuing a temporary restraining order on Iowa’s law banning school districts from requiring the wearing of masks at school, our district team has been working on this issue.

We understand the issue of masks has become very polarizing in our community, state and nation and we want to make sure we move forward in a process-driven and transparent way. We have a responsibility as a district to take all factors into account in order to make decisions that are both in alignment with the law and in the best interests of our students and staff.

In the past 48+ hours, we have consulted with the district’s legal counsel and talked with many representatives from other school districts, our state association, and health officials. We have also received significant feedback from families and staff on both sides of this issue – and we want you to know that this feedback has been heard.

As we look at our direction moving forward, it is important to provide context on the laws public school districts are required to adhere to and Judge Pratt’s most recent court ruling:

  • As a public school district, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that students with disabilities are provided with a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).
  • In the latest federal court decision, Judge Pratt finds that disabled students’ civil rights under federal law are violated by the prohibition of mask mandates.
  • The ruling states this is because these students are denied an equal opportunity to participate in or benefit from the school environment due to severe risk of illness.
  • Judge Pratt also states that requiring masks in schools constitutes a reasonable accommodation to allow disabled and immunocompromised students access to the school environment.

Following the judge’s decision, the district sought a legal opinion from both the district’s general counsel, as well as the district’s special education attorney.

Based on the court ruling, both attorneys independently concurred that by not having a mask mandate in place for all students, the district would be exposing itself to potential liability for discrimination and violation of the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

The district must now consider next steps given this latest ruling related to masks. In order to do so, the School Board will hold a special meeting at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 20, in the Hempstead High School Auditorium to consider the attorneys’ conclusion and take possible action. The meeting will be live streamed on the district’s Facebook and Twitter pages. View the meeting agenda.

We move forward knowing that there is a long-standing sense of pride in the Dubuque community and deep desire to put students first, despite varying opinions.

As we navigate these never-before-seen challenges, and recognizing that the requirements before us may continue to change and evolve, let’s move forward leading by example for our students and community – with respect, compassion and dignity.

Stan Rheingans
Superintendent of Schools