CORONAVIRUS

After saying masks shouldn't be required in Iowa schools, Iowa school leaders say guidance needs 'clarification'

Ann Lebo, director of the Iowa Department of Education, speaks to the press about the state's COVID-19 coronavirus respo
Ann Lebo, director of the Iowa Department of Education, speaks to the press about the state’s COVID-19 coronavirus response during a March 22 news conference in Johnston. The department this week advised that schools not require masks for students and staff when schools reopen, which brought immediate backlash. On Friday, the department said it would be clarify its guidance, though it didn’t say when it would do that. (Kelsey Kremer/Des Moines Register/pool photo)

A day after issuing guidance that discouraged requiring face masks for students if schools reopen, the Iowa Department of Education on Friday released a new statement saying the guidance “needs further clarification.”

The department said more information will be released in the “near future,” though it repeated it does not recommend that masks be required when K-12 classes resume, presumably in August.

The Department of Education, in collaboration with the Iowa Department of Public Health, on Thursday released guidance for reopening schools, which included the guidance on masks and a statement that no new information would be published unless public health conditions changed.

The state’s largest teachers union, the Iowa State Education Association, and others thought the recommendations fell short.

On Friday, the department issued another statement saying, “We recognize that face masks can be an important tool to help mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.”

But, it said, neither it nor the Iowa Department of Public Health recommend that public and private schools require masks for all students and staff “because of the considerable implications for such a policy.”

However, the department said, schools may decide to require masks, “based on their individual situations and data.”

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Mike Beranek, president of the Iowa State Education Association, said the department’s guidance, to date, has “threatened the health and safety of Iowa students, educators and school staff,” and the backlash from Iowans was loud and clear.

“The Department of Education needs to come up with guidance based on four basic principles — health expertise, educator voice, access to protection and equity,” he said in a statement.

“Students and educators deserve our protection and the Department of Education and Department of Public Health have done a disservice in releasing deficient guidance,” he said. “They must do better.”

Gov. Kim Reynolds closed Iowa schools March 15 in response to the coronavirus outbreak and announced on April 17 that schools would be closed for the rest of the school year.

The governor and Department of Education have not announced if schools will reopen for the 2020-21 school year this fall.

As of Friday, more than 27,550 Iowans have tested positive for COVID-19, according to state data, and 701 have died because of it.

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