Parents from across Iowa woke up this morning to emails from their children's schools announcing a major change regarding COVID-19 and the current pandemic.
Overnight Governor Kim Reynolds signed a new law affecting mask mandates across the state of Iowa. HF 847 went into effect immediately and this new legislation specifically bans school districts and local governments from enforcing mask policies that are stricter than those of the state of Iowa.
This new bill was approved by the Iowa House and Senate Wednesday Night. Governor Reynolds signed the bill into law a short time later.
Per the new Iowa state guidelines, school districts including school boards, superintendents or principals can no longer implement masks requirements for Iowa students or school employees. The legislation also states that local city and county leaders cannot make stricter mask policies than those of the state.
Iowa School Face Covering Guidelines
This new policy regarding mask mandates affects both public schools and accredited private schools. Masks can no longer be required and the only exception is when face coverings are required for an extracurricular or instructional purpose, or when required by Iowa law that governs eye and ear protection.
This policy is in contrast to recommendations by the CDC for schools to keep their mask and social distancing policies through the end of the 2020 - 2021 school year.
To comply with the new legislation, many school districts from around the Des Moines metro scrambled overnight and either removed or modified their mask mandate effective Thursday, May 20th.
Just some of the metro area school districts implementing the new change include Des Moines Public Schools as well as Ames, Ankeny, Grimes, Urbandale, Waukee, West Des Moines, Johnston, Polk City and Southeast Polk school districts.
The revised mask mandate policies specify that school employees and students are not required to wear masks for the remainder of the school year effective today. While face coverings can no longer be required, staff and students may still choose to wear a mask if it is their preference.
At this time, face coverings are still required on public transportation, including school buses. Masks are optional during athletic and other events that are held on school property.
Many school districts are also still strongly recommending policy specified by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and are recommending masks for those who are not yet vaccinated, especially when individuals are indoors. Children under the age of 12 are currently not eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccinations.
School staff and students who are feeling ill are also recommended to stay home and quarantine when applicable.
City and County Mask Guidelines
The new mask related legislation also prohibits both counties and cities from implementing face covering policies that are more strict than the state of Iowa policies. Cities and counties can still require the use of masks on public property.
Unlike other states, Governor Reynolds did not ever impose a mask mandate for the state of Iowa. She did impose a limited mask requirement which was lifted in February. The city of Des Moines ended their mask mandate last week per current recommendations by the CDC and Polk County did not issue a mandate for the county.
Iowans ages 16 and older are now eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations, and children ages 12-15 are eligible for the Pfizer vaccine. While over 1.4 million Iowans have been vaccinated, Iowa's vaccination rate still remains a subject of criticism.
According to The Washington Post, Iowa is the 47th worst state for per capita vaccine distribution. In Iowa, 1,484,010 people or 47% of the state have received at least one dose and 1,300,473 people or 41% of Iowa's population have been fully vaccinated according to USAfacts.org.
With less than two weeks remaining to the school year, this new law impacts students, their families and educators from across Iowa. It is causing concern and criticism on social media and in news coverage from across the country, with the long term results remaining to be seen.