DES MOINES, Iowa – As students head back to school this week, COVID-19 and protecting kids from the Delta variant remains on the mind of many parents and teachers.
The Iowa State Education Association has concerns about the new law banning mask mandates as well as the new quarantine requirements. It’s those changes that are making ISEA President Mike Beranek fearful of what’s ahead.
“Without the ability of a school district to be able to use the tool of facemasks, there is a potential that we will have younger children in a hospital bed, in an ICU floor and that is incomprehensible to us,” Beranek said.
ISEA thinks the choice to mask up should fall on local school districts based on community needs, while Gov. Kim Reynolds says the decision should be up to the parents.
“We have the data to demonstrate that we could do it safely and responsibly,” Reynolds said, “but most importantly moms and dads, if you want your child to wear a mask, I’m not saying no. So if you think that your child is better protected with a mask, by all means send them to school with a mask.”
Parents also have the power when it comes to quarantining, more so a recommendation than a requirement if a child tests positive for COVID-19 or has been exposed.
“It’s similar to what they do with the flu,” Reynolds explained. “So we made that transition before we passed the legislation to let school districts know that we need to start managing this the way that we manage other respiratory illnesses.”
However, this worries Beranek that districts won’t be collecting the right data for administrators to make the right decisions.
“As we’ve seen, this is much more dire than just contracting the flu,” Beranek said. “And so we need to be able to make sure that we’re quarantining individuals, that we’re sending them home, that we have contact tracing and once the number hits a certain threshold, we should have the ability to cancel school in that facility.”
It’s a threshold many school districts will have to figure out when the time comes. According to new guidance from the Iowa Department of Public Health, when more than 10 percent of students are absent due to illness, that’s when the school will report the data. The state department will then contact the local county health department to work with the school on next steps.