Iowa won't require face masks when schools restarts

The Iowa Department of Education on Thursday released guidelines for reopening schools in the fall that did not include requirements for students or teachers to wear face masks, undergo temperature checks or practice social distancing.

Instead, the state will the allow the 327 school districts and 119 accredited nonpublic schools to make their own recommendations.

“Requiring face coverings for all staff and students is not recommended,” the document states. “Allow the personal use of face coverings by staff and students.”

ADVERTISEMENT

It also encouraged educators to “teach and reinforce the prevention of stigma associated with the use or non-use of facial coverings to support a respectful, inclusive and supportive school environment.”

The Iowa Department of Education released a follow-up statement on Friday to provide “further clarification,” adding that additional information about health and safety measures will be released “in the near future.”

“We recognize that face masks can be an important tool to help mitigate the spread of the coronavirus,” the department said.

The state’s education and public health departments said they have not recommended mask requirements “because of the considerable implications for such policy” but said schools may require masks if they choose.

Jean Hessburg, a spokesperson for the Iowa State Education Association, the state's teacher's union, slammed the state for not complying with the federal government’s guidelines for restrictions in public places in a statement to the Des Moines Register.

"It is a gamble and obscene that the governor and the Department of Education are gambling on the health and safety of our students, our staff and school employees," Hessburg told the outlet. "This virus has demonstrated that it knows no bounds and students can bring the virus home to families and ravage a family."

ADVERTISEMENT

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends face coverings in public settings where social distancing cannot be maintained.

The CDC does not recommend having schools screen students or staff upon entering the building because one symptom is not indicative of communicable disease. Some individuals may be ill and have no symptoms, according to the Iowa guidance. 

The state’s advisory says schools should provide appropriate personal protective equipment and training for employees who have a medium to high risk of exposure or as determined by their job-related task.

"Schools may not be able to guarantee that physical distancing can be met in all school settings throughout the entire school day, during school activities or with transportation," the document said.

School districts have until July 1 to submit "return to learn" plans to the Iowa Department of Education, including commitments to provide both in-person and virtual learning options.

Districts, however, are not yet required to address how they plan to handle issues such as face coverings and social distancing, the Register noted. Parents will likely not know the exact mandates until the school year begins in mid- or late August.

The Thursday guidance came one day before Iowa surpassed 700 COVID-19 deathsThe state on Friday reported 27,555 confirmed case of the coronavirus. 

Iowa's neighboring state Illinois announced this week that it would require all students and teachers to wear face coverings, receive temperature checks and practice social distancing. 

The state will also be providing free cloth face masks — a total of 2.5 million — to every public school teacher, staff member and student.

"In Illinois, a child's ability to afford or acquire a face covering should have no impact on whether they can go to school, and it won't," Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) said.