Opinion | Republicans need to follow public health guidelines

Republicans push proposal to allow principles to set mask mandates, not public health officials.


Kelsey Kremer/The Register via I

IA Sen. Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton, speaks to the Senate on the first day of the 2021 legislative session on Monday, Jan. 11, 2020, at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines. 0111 Capitol 010 Jpg

Sophia Meador, Opinions Contributor

It seems that Iowa Republicans believe school principals have equal authority and knowledge to public health experts when it comes to mandating safety requirements.

A proposal by Iowa Sen. Amy Sinclair, R-Allentown, would allow school principals to waive mask requirements for students.

“The intent of the amendment is to allow administrators — principals — to do the best job of educating children,” Sinclair said in a committee meeting, according to the Des Moines Register.

The typical job duties for school principals include developing education curriculum, closely monitoring student and staff relations, and dealing with conflicts that often arise. Needless to say, the job duties of school principals are vast and complex. However, this job gives school principals no competency to set public health guidelines for their schools.

The power to address vital public health and safety requirements for schools should not be judged by school principals, nor should school principals be given this substantial duty.

However, this proposal represents the bigger issue of a pattern of Republican-led efforts to strip the authority of public health experts in matters related to COVID-19.

Reynolds has a long history of controversial COVID-19 related decrees. In January, Reynolds signed a law requiring schools to offer a 100-percent in-person learning option, despite opposition from Democrats and public health experts. Reynolds was also one of the last governors to set a statewide mask mandate, and one of the first to end it.

Republicans in Iowa and across the U.S. have politicized COVID-19 and mask mandates. This follows the precedent set by former President Donald Trump.

Trump stated at the White House in August of 2020, “My administration has a different approach: We have urged Americans to wear masks, and I emphasized this is a patriotic thing to do. Maybe they’re great, and maybe they’re just good. Maybe they’re not so good.”

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Republicans have pushed against safety measures and protocols encouraged by public health officials. Many see masks as a restriction to individual freedom, rather than a public safety precaution.

The politicization of masks and other COVID-19 protocols needs to end. Since its emergence, COVID-19 has claimed the lives of almost 6,000 Iowans and more than 573,000 lives nationwide. It is a deadly virus, not a political issue. Republicans need to start acting like it.

Sinclair is incorrect that this proposal allows school administrators to do the best job of educating children. In fact, this does very little to best educate children if they are further put at risk of contracting the virus. It appears Republicans are okay with putting the health of school children at risk, if they see it beneficial to their political agenda.

This proposal also presents an issue of political belief in public schools. Because COVID-19 has been largely politicized by Republicans, giving principals this authority will allow for mandates based on personal political beliefs. The authority of mandating masks in schools will be authorized by a single individual’s belief, leading to many making this decision based on political alliances.

This authority should be given to the experts leading efforts to combat COVID-19. This decision regarding mask mandates should be based on the guidance of the public health community, rather than a single administrator. We need to allow public health experts to lead COVID-19 mitigation efforts, instead of stripping their authority away.

As vaccination rates continuously go up and cases continue to drop, Iowans should be concerned with continuing efforts to end COVID-19. To do so, it is imperative that Iowa follows the guidance of public health experts, not the guidance of individuals who politicize the deadly virus.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.