No vote on reinstating mask mandate, Johnston school board delays decision

Coronavirus Impacting Iowa

JOHNSTON, Iowa — School districts across the state are grappling with the decision of whether to bring back mask mandates after Iowa’s law banning them was temporarily blocked by a federal judge.

That includes Johnston Community Schools. Its school board held a special meeting Wednesday morning to discuss the district’s options.

Some very vocal parents who oppose a new mandate packed the meeting, even disrupting discussions with applause or loud comments.

Board members say that puts them in a difficult position with the decision becoming too political.

“I would love to say that a mask mandate’s going to work … I don’t think … I think it’s going to escalate the situation, unfortunately. And I don’t want your applause for this, because I think many of you are being bullies, I think many of you are …  the way in which, the way in which you refer to board members and refer to others … I understand you’re standing up for what you believe is true but the issue is this. It’s gonna … it’s gonna escalate the situation by passing a mask mandate. And as much as I would favor one, until it’s more settled in the courts or determined at a higher level that it’s necessary, I don’t want to put our principals in a situation where they’re going to have to escalate a situation with families,” said school board member Steven Hopper.

The school board members discussed the federal judge’s recent ruling, in which he stated that the law banning mask mandates was harmful to children with disabilities.

Members considered the benefits of universal masking to protect those students.

COVID-19 cases are relatively low in the district. One member said that will make it difficult to determine when to remove mask mandates, another said those numbers are self-reported and case counts could be higher.

After the meeting, a parent expressed his worry to us about the psychological and learning impact on his kindergartener if masks go back on.

“She doesn’t have the normal abilities that that other kids do. In putting masks back on here are going to delay her further in her speech, going to delay her further in her progression to live a semi-normal life. You know the emotional cues, not just for my child but all children that go to here,” said Johnston parent Charles Steele.

The school board decided not to vote on the matter. Members wanted to hold a private meeting to discuss the legal implications of having a mask mandate or not putting one in place. They’ll likely hold another special session in the near future.

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