DES MOINES — The debate over mask-wearing continued at the Iowa Statehouse as lawmakers heard arguments against limiting the authority of colleges and universities to mandate facial coverings for students and employees when they are off-campus.
Last week, the GOP-controlled House rejected an attempt to require facial coverings in the chamber and in House committee and subcommittee meetings.
On Tuesday, lobbyists for colleges and universities told a House subcommittee that House Study Bill 162 poses risks for the entire campus community.
The bill would prohibit postsecondary institutions from requiring students or employees to wear face masks or social distance when they are off-campus.
“Your behavior and your decisions do have repercussions, especially in this situation,” said Frank Chiodo, representing the Iowa Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.
Requiring students to follow public health practices allows schools to continue to offer in-person instruction, which the Legislature is now requiring of K-12 schools, Chiodo said.
“Quite frankly, the easiest and simplest thing that we can do is encourage our students, our faculty, to be safe and wear masks,” he said. “It’s a lot more economical than having to shut down a university.”
The bill would be “incredibly problematic” for colleges and universities, added Rep. Christina Bohannan, D-Iowa City, who teaches at the University of Iowa.
During the fall semester, she had 50 students in a lecture hall designed for 200. Everyone wore a mask. Classes alternated between in-person and virtual by week.
“Even then, we had some students who were out because of the quarantine,” Bohannan said. “You just have to set foot in a college town any day of the week to see that the risk is from community spread outside of the university. So to say that there’s nothing that the university can do to have people take these precautions is just crazy.”
However, Rep. Joe Mitchell, R-Mount Pleasant, said he and his colleagues don’t believe it’s acceptable that “students are being threatened to be expelled if they’re seen not wearing face coverings off-campus.”
There’s a frustration that educators and education are being treated differently, Mitchell said.
“Back home, we have people that had to go to work at the grocery store, at the manufacturing plant or the hospital,” he said. “And then we’re saying we’re going to put educators on this pedestal over every other worker. And so this is where the frustration in this bill comes from.”
The bill now goes to the State Government Committee.
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