As the Iowa City Community School District finishes its third week of the 2021-22 school year, parents are voicing concerns about the lack of a mask mandate for students.
The Iowa Legislature passed a law prohibiting school district from mandating masks in May, but the district still encourages mask-wearing.
During the first week of school, the district received feedback from parents asking them to ignore Reynolds’ law, School Board President Shawn Eyestone said.
“There are folks that have asked us to issue mask mandates despite the state law,” Eyestone said. “I think the district and the board and our legal counsel have had pretty good conversations of what we can and can’t do as of yet.”
Although Eyestone said the district had “a good week,” he added that there were nerves and anxiety before the school year began.
“Our district continues to support the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation for universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to schools, regardless of vaccination status, and we applaud the City of Iowa City’s efforts to mandate masking of all individuals in the Iowa City community,” Superintendent Matt Degner said in a statement sent to families.
Eyestone said elementary school parents are the most concerned about masking this fall because children under 12 cannot yet be vaccinated against COVID-19.
“I think there would be a much larger number who would certainly be interested in having a mask mandate, I think the elementary age,” he said. “Parents are, rightly so, the most concerned since that age group of children are not able to be vaccinated, so I think plenty of elementary parents would be perfectly fine with the mandate.”
Currently, the district is looking into legal counsel on how they can get around the state law, Degner said.
“As the events of this week have unfolded, the district, in conjunction with legal counsel, has and continues to discuss potential legal paths to further protect our students, staff, and families,” Degner wrote. “We have asked for additional assistance and guidance from the United States Department of Education, Department of Justice, and Office of Civil Rights as we attempt to comply with both state and federal laws.”
Iowa City Assistant City Attorney, Eric Goers said that the district wants to protect the well-being of its students and staff.
“I’m aware they are doing what they can to achieve what they think is in the best interest of their students and staff,” Goers said.
The district does have concerns about a possible COVID-19 outbreak, especially due to the delta variant, Eyestone said.
“I think there’s always that concern. We are not blind to what’s happening in other states and even locally as the delta variant has certainly kind of changed the playing field a little bit,” Eyestone said.
At the elementary level, Eyestone said that the frequency of mask-wearing is higher than older students.
“We’re definitely encouraging it from the administrative team down and I think a fair number of staff are kind of trying to model that for the students,” Eyestone said.