116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — A day after a federal judge cleared the way at least temporarily for local officials to require masks in schools, the Cedar Rapids Community School District announced Tuesday it is reinstating a mandate that all students, staff and visitors starting Wednesday wear face coverings in its schools to mitigate a surging spread of COVID-19.
Masks also will be required for Cedar Rapids-based day care programs. And masks are encouraged during activities “beyond the school day,” Superintendent Noreen Bush said in an email to families Tuesday.
Acting in a lawsuit brought by parents of children too young to get a COVID-19 vaccine, a federal judge in Des Moines ordered Monday that the state immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents local school districts from requiring masks. U.S. District Judge Robert Pratt ruled that, for the plaintiffs’ children who suffer from various medical conditions, the state ban “substantially increases their risk of contracting the virus that causes COVID-19” and as such represents “irreparable harm.”
The state’s largest school district — Des Moines — quickly reinstated its mask requirement after the order was made public.
The Iowa City Community School District board, which was meeting late Tuesday, also was considering a mask mandate. Earlier, Superintendent Matt Degner said he “anticipates” the district would enact one.
Republicans in the Iowa Legislature in May passed the measure banning locally elected school boards from issuing mask mandates in schools. The bill was immediately signed into law by GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds.
The governor decried the judge’s restraining order, which eventually will be replaced with a preliminary injunction as the parents’ lawsuit proceeds.
“Once that’s done, we will be able to appeal the decision. We don’t have anything set in stone but we think it will be approximately two weeks,” Reynolds said Tuesday in an appearance on the Simon Conway radio show on WHO-AM.
“In the meantime, we’re getting everything ready to go and looking at every single option that we have to challenge this,” she said in the radio appearance. “I believe that parents should have the freedom and are best suited to decide what is in the best interest of their children. They have the ability to wear a mask if the parent decides to do that.”
Over 90 students in Cedar Rapids schools are positive for COVID-19 — “more than we had at any given point of time last year,” Bush said during a school board meeting Monday evening. The district reported 96 students and nine staff positive for the virus as of last Friday.
The “vulnerability” of children who are not able to get vaccinated against COVID-19 is of increasing concern, Bush said. A COVID-19 vaccine is approved for only those 12 and older.
The Cedar Rapids school board has continued to advocate for local control throughout the pandemic and to prioritize the safety of students and staff.
School board President Nancy Humbles and members Cindy Garlock, Jennifer Neumann and Dexter Merschbrock said at Monday evening’s board meeting they would support a district decision to require masks.
“I strongly encourage you to have a mask mandate for our students,” Garlock said. “I think the data is clear, the science is clear, and we want to provide a safe environment for all our kids and the best way to do that is with a mask.”
Merschbrock said he would support “anything we can do” — including using Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funds — to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. He suggested schools be a drop-off point for Test Iowa kits, which could be delivered daily to the State Hygienic Lab in Coralville.
Free COVID-19 testing kids are available for Cedar Rapids school staff to take home and self-administer. With these kits, available through Test Iowa, Iowans can collect their own saliva and mail the sample directly to the State Hygienic Lab for testing. Results will be emailed to participants within 24 hours after samples are received by the state lab. The district is working with the Iowa Department of Education to make the test kits available to students as well.
Demand for the kits as more Iowans test for COVID-19 or are symptomatic is greater than supply, Bush said.
School nurses cannot administer COVID-19 tests because they are not certified diagnosticians, Bush said.
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Rod Boshart of The Gazette Des Moines Bureau contributed to this report.