School board approves mask mandate for Iowa City schools

Jordan Sellergren/Little Village

The Iowa City Community School District Board of Directors voted unanimously at its meeting on Tuesday night to create a universal face mask policy for district schools, to combat the spread of COVID-19. The policy requires students, staff and visitors to mask up when in school buildings. The mask mandate also applies outdoors on school grounds, if individuals are not able to maintain the six feet of social distancing recommended by the CDC.

There are exceptions for students engaged in sports, but those on the sidelines or the bench must wear face coverings. Students and staff with medical exemptions will not be required to mask.

ICCSD joins the Cedar Rapids Community Schools District and Des Moines Public Schools in reviving the mask mandate, following a federal judge issuing a temporary restraining order against the state enforcing a ban on school mask mandates.

ICCSD, like many districts across the state, had a mask requirement before Gov. Kim Reynolds signed HF 847 into law on May 20. The bill created the mask mandate ban by stripping school districts of the ability to require anyone wear a mask, regardless of vaccination status or level of virus spread in the community.

Reynolds did not change her position even when the CDC and American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) recommended universal masking in schools prior to the beginning of the school year, because of the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant.

In his decision on Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Pratt wrote, “The court has looked at the data concerning the effectiveness of masking to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 and it overwhelming supports the CDC and AAP’s recommendations.”

Pratt’s ruling came in a lawsuit filed by 11 Iowa families, who have school age children at heightened risk from COVID-19 due to medical conditions.

“A universal masking mandate instituted by a school is a reasonable modification that would enable disabled students to have equal access to the necessary in-person school programs, services, and activities,” Pratt wrote.

All the members of the ICCSD Board of Directors were masked during the meeting on Tuesday night, as were all the members of the district’s staff in attendance. There were approximately 30 members of the public present, all but five of whom were masked.

During the public comment section of the meeting, 11 speakers addressed the issue of mandating masks. Nine supported a mask mandate, one opposed it and one woman cautioned directors to carefully consider the possible mental health burden mask-wearing may create for students. She said she believed that last school year’s mask requirement contributed to the depression that led her son to commit suicide.

Gov. Reynolds has frequently asserted that wearing masks in schools might have a bad impact on the mental or physical health of students, as well as their ability to learn. It is a point Judge Pratt addressed in his decision.

“Importantly, the CDC specifically states that there are no known adverse effects from mask use,” the judge wrote.

In a written statement after the temporary restraining order was issued, Reynolds said her administration would “appeal and exercise every legal option we have to uphold state law and defend the rights and liberties afforded to any American citizen protected by our constitution.”

That appeal may prove difficult for Reynolds. Pratt found the school mask ban violated both the guarantees in the American with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act that ensure students with disabilities receive the same educational opportunities other students do, in an environment that is safe for them. The judge also found the ban “substantially increases the Plaintiff’s children’s risk of contracting… which in turn substantially increases Plaintiff’s children’s risk of severe illness or death.”

ICCSD’s reinstated mask mandate takes effect on Wednesday.

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