116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Iowa City students will be required to wear masks on school buses this fall, in accordance with federal law, but cannot be required to wear masks in classrooms.
As the Delta variant of COVID-19 surges in Iowa, the Iowa City Community School District also is extending its registration deadline for its new online learning program. Families will have through Aug. 9 to register their child for the 100-percent virtual academy.
In a five-page document presented to the school board Tuesday, the district outlined health and safety guidance to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. The guidance is broken down depending on if the rate of transmission in Johnson County is deemed low, moderate, substantial or high by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID-19 data tracker.
Johnson County’s level of transmission was considered “moderate” according to the tracker Tuesday. If this level rises, the guidelines will be reviewed to determine if additional mitigation strategies should be implemented.
Iowa City school’s health and safety guidance reinforces the importance of hand-washing and sanitizing, enhanced cleaning and disinfection, physical distancing and staying home when sick.
If the transmission rate of COVID-19 is high, the district may implement classroom cohorts — keeping elementary classrooms together throughout the day — restrict visitors, suspend field trips and limit community use of its buildings.
The district will continue to update its own COVID-19 tracker, which provided information to the public on how many students and staff were presumed positive or tested positive for COVID-19, as well as how many students and staff were in quarantine because of exposure.
Although a new Iowa law does not allow school districts to require students or staff to wear a mask in class, district officials are strongly encouraging everyone to wear one at the start of the school year and to get vaccinated if eligible.
The district is considering requiring students who are not wearing a mask in school to quarantine at home for 10 days if exposed to COVID-19. This could both encourage more students to wear a mask and prevent the spread of COVID-19 in classrooms, the school board agreed.
However, the district is waiting for guidance from the Iowa Department of Public Health.
“I do expect to hear something from the Iowa Department of Public Health in the next week, but we don’t know what that is,” Superintendent Matt Degner said. “Is it going to not allow us to quarantine students? Will it be a recommendation not to quarantine?”
Last spring, the district relaxed its quarantine practices after almost 1,000 students were quarantined. If both people are masked correctly, a close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 did not need to quarantine, but should self-monitor. But the state Public Health Department on May 14 stopped recommending quarantine for anyone, Degner said.
“Unvaccinated, unmasked people — yet alone kids — are at the greatest risk of getting (COVID-19) and passing it on,” school board president Shawn Eyestone said.
School board member Ruthina Malone said she has received “so many emails” asking the district to require students to wear masks.
“Our hands are tied,” she said. “There are limited options we can provide for children under 12 coming into our building besides online enrollment.”
School board member Lisa Williams said she is most concerned about students who cannot yet get the vaccine. No vaccine is yet approved for anyone younger than 12.
Williams’ own two children were enrolled in online learning for the majority of last year, she said.
“I don’t want a quarantine policy that keeps kids out of class,” Williams said. “But the best way a kid can guarantee they are going to school is if they put a mask on. That’s how you keep your kid out of quarantine.”
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