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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Area school districts are considering what to do about mask mandates after the state public health department issued new guidance late last week, just weeks before the end of the school year for many districts.
While some districts are adjusting their policies to align with the new state guidance, others are opting not to drop masking requirements ahead of the looming conclusion of the school year.
“As has occurred throughout the past 15 months, this guidance continues to change without prior notification, requiring quick consideration of impact to school operations,” College Community School District Superintendent Doug Wheeler wrote in a letter to parents Friday.
On Friday, Iowa Department of Public Health Interim Director Kelly Garcia sent a letter announcing revised COVID-19 guidance for school districts and child care centers, which loosened quarantine requirements and advised an end to mask mandates in those facilities.
“As this school year winds down and summer school and camps begin, we must work together to continue to support a flexible approach,” Garcia wrote.
Children who had close contact with an individual infected with COVID-19 no longer need to quarantine unless they become ill or test positive, even if both individuals weren’t wearing masks.
School children previously who had been exposed to the virus didn’t need to quarantine if both parties had been wearing masks.
Schools and child care centers also are advised to drop existing mask mandates.
However, because some families may want their child to continue covering their faces, “we urge schools and child care settings to provide parents and students with the option to make their own decision about mask usage,” Garcia wrote.
Local districts reviewing guidance this week
The letter from the state came as some school districts are weeks — or even days — from the end of the school year. Clear Creek Amana Community School District is scheduled to dismiss for summer break on May 27.
The short time frame likely will be a discussion point as the school’s education board reviews the state’s letter as well as guidance from Johnson County Public Health later this week. District spokeswoman Laurie Haman said the school board will announce a decision on continuing the district’s mask mandate during a board meeting Wednesday evening.
Other area school districts already have opted not to change their mask mandates because of the fast-approaching end of the year. The Linn-Mar Community School District announced over the weekend that masks still will be required for the rest of this academic year “given the short number of days until the conclusion of the school year.”
“In the absence of consistent guidance from our health officials, and after consulting with our school board elected officials, I have decided we will continue our current policy on masks for the remainder of the school year,” Linn-Mar Superintendent Shannon Bisgard wrote on the district’s website.
Some local districts are expected to make a decision on their policies later this week.
Cedar Rapids Community School District Superintendent Noreen Bush told parents in a letter school officials will have a decision by this Wednesday.
Masks will be required in the meantime as school officials work with Linn County Public Health on next steps, Bush said. Last day of classes will be June 4.
As of Monday morning, the Iowa City Community School District still was reviewing the new advisory and discussing their next steps, spokeswoman Kristin Pedersen said.
The last day of school for that district is June 11.
Though school officials say masking still will be strongly encouraged going forward, College Community School District students no longer will be required to wear one outside or while “engaged in heavy physical activity in large indoor areas like gyms,” Wheeler, the superintendent, wrote in his letter last week.
All staff will still be required to wear masks regardless of vaccine status.
“As we continue to adjust, we will not tolerate and quickly address reported shaming/harassment of students (by students or adults) for their masking decisions,” Wheeler said.
Approach COVID-19 like other childhood illnesses, state says
State public health officials added COVID-19 to a list of childhood illnesses that require temporary exclusion from education or child care settings. In doing so, Garcia advised schools and child care centers now are advised to approach COVID-19 as they would any other childhood illnesses, such as the flu.
The new guidance “is completely different from how we’ve been handling it before,” said Haman with Clear Creek Amana Community School District.
Garcia’s letter was sent the day after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced fully vaccinated individuals no longer needed to wear a mask indoors.
However, that federal guidance would not apply to most children, as the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against the coronavirus is the only one approved for anyone under 18 and only recently was expanded to include children as young as 12. The other federally authorized vaccines are approved for adults age 18 and older.
As of Monday, less than 2 percent of the state’s population aged 17 and younger have been vaccinated, according to the state’s novel coronavirus website.
Children can develop COVID-19, but they are less likely to experience severe complications, research has found. However, at least three children in Iowa have died from the disease, according to state public health officials.
At least two Iowa children also have been treated with a rare inflammatory syndrome that’s been linked with coronavirus infection, according to state officials.
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