CORONAVIRUS

Why aren't Iowa schools being told to require face masks? Here's the Department of Education's clarification

State teachers' union still hoping for more from the department

Dr. Ann Lebo, Director of the Iowa Department of Education speaks during a press conference updating Iowans on the statu
Dr. Ann Lebo, Director of the Iowa Department of Education speaks during a press conference updating Iowans on the status of COVID-19 cases on April 2, 2020, in Johnston. (Brian Powers/pool, The Register)

The Iowa Department of Education on Tuesday attempted to clarify its school reopening guidance, a two-page document published last week that drew swift criticism from teachers and school administrators for its stance against requiring face masks when classes resume and for its brevity.

In Tuesday’s guidance document, the department said it is not recommending face coverings “because of the considerable health and safety, legal and training implications for such a policy.”

The document, which department spokeswoman Heather Doe said should be read in tandem with Thursday’s guidance, goes on to outline a “nonexhaustive list of considerations” school districts and accredited private schools should consider if they opt to require face coverings anyway.

Those include determining what type of face coverings will be allowed, how schools will address staff and students with communication needs hindered by face coverings, how use of coverings will be enforced and determining who will be responsible for providing and ensuring appropriate use of the coverings.

In four pages, the document answers a dozen questions the department has received since it released its reopening guidelines, which were originally said to be the department’s final word on reopening school facilities amid the coronavirus pandemic barring public health changes.

Following criticism, the department promised clarification Friday.

The clarifying document includes more information about social distancing, temperature screenings and the department’s recommendation that schools prevent “stigma associated with the use or non-use of facial coverings.”

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

“Regardless of a school’s policy on face coverings, some students and staff will either need to wear one or will be unable to wear one at some time due to their health or other condition,” the guidance reads. “In these situations individuals may be singled out or stigmatized for several reasons, among them being illness and disability. It is important that schools do not inadvertently reveal information about any students’ or staff members’ health or disability status through the implementation of a policy.”

Mike Beranek, the president of the state’s largest teachers’ union, said although the new guidance provides more direction it remains largely ambiguous.

“It still doesn’t provide enough guidance for our local school districts to make the plans necessary to ensure our schools are safe and healthy environments when schools reopen,” Iowa State Education Association President Beranek said.

Over the weekend, the membership in a Facebook group created to call for adequate guidance from the state had ballooned to more than 11,000 members. The group, started by two northwest Iowa teachers, urged its members Monday to call and email Iowa Department of Education Director Ann Lebo, Gov. Kim Reynolds and the Iowa Department of Public Health to “demand a safe return.”

An organizer of the group declined an interview, saying she is not authorized by her school district to speak to reporters, and referred The Gazette to the Iowa State Education Association.

“We’re really working hard to continue this advocacy statewide, and we’re hoping they will continue to modify their reopening guidance,” Beranek said. “I hope they will talk about the benefits of using (face masks) as opposed to just the objections for using them.”

Comments: (319) 398-8330; molly.duffy@thegazette.com

Support our coverage

Our most important Coronavirus coverage is free to the public.

If you believe local news is essential, especially during this crisis, please donate. Your contribution will support news resources to cover the impact of the pandemic on our local communities.

All donations are tax-deductible.

Support our coverage

Our most important Coronavirus coverage is free to the public.

If you believe local news is essential, especially during this crisis, please donate. Your contribution will support news resources to cover the impact of the pandemic on our local communities.

All donations are tax-deductible.