116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
In a letter sent Thursday to families, 10 Linn County area school district superintendents said they cannot require face coverings in classes even after local public health officials said there could be a loophole in an Iowa law prohibiting mask mandates.
The law that prevents school districts, cities and counties from issuing their own requirements for face coverings to prevent the spread of COVID-19 was passed in May by Republicans in the Iowa Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Kim Reynolds. In a letter last month to Cedar Rapids school board members, Linn County Public Health argued there may be an exception.
“The Iowa House File 847, (page) 15, states school authorities may use facial covering when it is ‘necessary for a specific extracurricular or instructional purpose,’” the letter stated. “In the current situation when new cases, hospitalizations and deaths associated with COVID-19 are increasing in our community, the board of health deems it necessary to allow the occupants of school buildings to wear a face covering.”
In the letter to parents, the school officials said they would continue to monitor the spread of COVID-19. According to state data, children age 17 and under represented the largest share of new positive cases over the past seven days — growing from 13 percent reported three weeks to 29 percent as of Thursday. Linn County’s ratio was higher that the state average, representing 31 percent of new positive tests. Those 17 and under account for 7 percent of the COVID-19 hospitalizations statewide.
“School districts are political subdivisions of the state of Iowa and are required to follow the law, regardless of public or personal opinion or belief,” the superintendents’ letter said. “We cannot simply ignore the law. Violating the law could result in ramifications including litigation, accreditation, licensure, student learning and substantial disruptions to the school environment. Iowa is the only state which prevents facial-covering mandates in schools via state law.”
It was signed by superintendents from Cedar Rapids, College Community, Marion Independent, Linn-Mar, Alburnett, Center Point-Urbana, Lisbon, Mount Vernon, Central City, Springville and North Linn school districts.
The U.S. Education Department announced last month it’s investigating five Republican-led states including Iowa that have banned — mostly by policy or executive order — local school boards from enacting mask requirements, saying the policies could discriminate against students with disabilities or health conditions.
Thursday, the U.S. Education Department said it would establish a grant program to help districts that lose funding by going against state bans in order to follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which advises mask wearing in schools. No COVID-19 vaccine has been approve for children under 12.
“We should be thanking districts for using proven strategies that will keep schools open and safe, not punishing them,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a statement.
Iowa schools are not required to report the number of students and staff who have tested positive for COVID-19 or who are in quarantine from exposure, but some are. Schools also are not required to conduct contact tracing to determine if someone is considered a close contact with a COVID-19 positive person. A close contact is someone who is within 6 feet of a COVID-19 positive person for 15 minutes or longer.
As of Sept. 3, Cedar Rapids schools were reporting 66 students and 14 staff who tested positive for COVID-19 across 24 of the district’s 32 schools.
College Community Schools reported 34 students and staff actively positive for COVID-19 and 59 students and staff in quarantine as of Sept. 2.
Mount Vernon schools reported seven students and two staff positive for COVID-19, and 57 students and staff in quarantine as of Sept. 3.
Clear Creek Amana reported 3 percent of students and staff positive for COVID-19 or in quarantine as of Sept. 3. The district serves over 2,800 PK-12 and over 214 classroom teachers. not including other district personnel.
Comments: (319) 398-8411; email@example.com