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IOWA CITY — Officials with both Iowa City schools and the University of Iowa on Friday said they can’t require face coverings in their buildings or on their properties despite a new Iowa City mask mandate that specifically identifies public school and UI academic spaces as being included.
The UI and the Iowa City Community School District — which start their fall semesters Monday — both strongly encourage vaccination and masking, regardless of vaccination status, in accordance with guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But — given action taken by the Legislature, the governor and the Board of Regents in May — officials said they can’t enforce Iowa City Mayor Bruce Teague’s emergency order, issued Thursday evening, requiring masks in all classrooms, stores, restaurants, and churches through Sept. 30.
“While the university appreciates the sentiments expressed by the mayor, his order does not and cannot apply to the University of Iowa,” UI Vice President for External Relations Peter Matthes wrote in a Friday morning message to UI college deans. “As a state agency, the university must comply with state law and our governing body, the Board of Regents, state of Iowa.”
In an email to families Friday, Iowa City schools Superintendent Matt Degner said he “applauds” Iowa City’s efforts to mandate masks. But, he said, the school district is “expected to follow state law and guidance from the Iowa Department of Education,” which prohibits school districts from requiring the use of face coverings.
The Iowa City district is mulling potential legal paths to protect students, staff and families from COVID, seeking guidance from the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. Department of Justice and the Office of Civil Rights.
“Student and staff health and safety continue to be our top priority,” Degner said in an email. “Wearing a mask is an opportunity for our entire school community to support each other and help slow the spread of COVID-19.”
The Iowa City emergency order — enacted in light of rising COVID cases and hospitalizations — conflicts with a bill Gov. Kim Reynolds signed into law in May barring school boards from enacting mask mandates in schools.
Governor’s office spokesman Pat Garrett, reacting to the Iowa City masking order, said it’s “not enforceable.”
In Matthes’ statement to the UI campus Friday, he referenced messaging done earlier this week about vaccination and masking.
“The University of Iowa strongly encourages face masks in all classroom settings and during in-person office hours,” according to a campus message this week, which noted Johnson County has the highest vaccination rate in the state — with 71 percent of those eligible getting the shot.
“Please do your part to keep our community safe by getting your free vaccination today.”