116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Protesters opposing mask requirements for students threatened to sue the Cedar Rapids school board if it does not repeal the mandate.
Many protesters showed up at Monday’s school board meeting in matching T-shirts that read “Freedom over Fear.” Protesters also carried a large sign that read “Unmask our children.”
A group of parents yielded their five-minute public comment period to one man, Russell Hotchkiss, who is father to a first-grader at Hiawatha Elementary School.
Hotchkiss spoke for over 30 minutes, pleading for the mask mandate to be removed, threatening a lawsuit and asking for school board members’ resignations.
Mask opponents contend that masks inhibit kids from socializing and restrict breathing. Advocates cite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's guidance recommending universal indoor masking for students and staff at K-12 schools regardless of vaccination status.
The Cedar Rapids school board has previously voiced support for a mask mandate to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and allow students to stay in school.
After public comment — during which many protesters spoke explaining their opposition to masks — the meeting was disrupted when protesters shouted “take a vote,” and “we will not back down.”
School board president Dave Tominsky called for a 10-minute recess for the “disruption to cease.”
This is the third time in the past few months the school board has been forced to take a recess because of people protesting the mask mandate.
School board members cannot address public comment during board meetings per Iowa Code. The board agenda also cannot be amended once it is approved by the board.
Superintendent Noreen Bush said the administration can make a recommendation at another school board meeting or an item can be added to a future board agenda to allow the school board to discuss the mask mandate.
“You need to stay in compliance and not comment on this, and I cannot comment on this, but I wanted the public to understand why we cannot take a vote on this this evening,” Bush said.
Although a state law — passed in the final hours of the 2021 legislative session — bars schools from requiring masks, a temporary restraining order allows school districts to decide for themselves whether to require masks.
The federal court ruling halting enforcement of the state law came in a lawsuit filed by parents of children with medical conditions that make them vulnerable to COVID-19.
Cedar Rapids schools reinstated a mask mandate for all students, staff and visitors Sept. 15. Masks also are required for Cedar Rapids-based day care programs, with masks encouraged during school activities beyond the school day.
If the restraining order is changed or lifted, masks will not be required, notes Cedar Rapids schools metrics for removing the mask requirement.
Other metrics that could be considered in determining when mask requirements for students and staff can safely end, according to a newsletter, are:
- Linn County’s seven day COVID-19 positivity rate drops below 14 percent.
- The transmission level of COVID-19 in Linn County, as defined by the Iowa Department of Public Health, dips below epidemic level.
- The positivity rate for COVID-19 within the Cedar Rapids Community School District is below 2 percent.
- Linn County cases in the 17 and younger age group drop below 10 percent.
As of Friday, 66 students and nine staff members had tested positive for COVID-19 in the preceding week, the district reported.
Linn County’s seven-day positivity rate was 23 percent and the transmission level of COVID-19 was at epidemic level as of Thursday. The positivity rate in Cedar Rapids schools was less than 1 percent, but the 0-17 age group in Linn County represented 17 percent of new COVID-19 cases as of Thursday.
The district also could consider canceling the mask requirement if data shows a school’s population has an immunization rate of more than 50 percent.
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