Just after midnight on Thursday, May 20, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a bill into law making it illegal to require that masks have to be worn in classrooms.
The new law also prohibits cities and counties from enacting mask mandates that have a negative impact on private property.
After the bill was introduced on Wednesday morning, Republicans in the Iowa Legislature passed it that night.
“The state of Iowa is putting parents back in control of their child’s education and taking greater steps to protect the rights of all Iowans to make their own health care decisions,” Reynolds said in a statement. “I am proud to be a governor of a state that values personal responsibility and individual liberties. I want to thank the Iowa Legislature for their quick work in bringing this bill to my desk so that it can be signed into law.”
Mike Beranek, president of the Iowa State Education Association, said he was “deeply disappointed” by the vote, citing CDC suggestions that unvaccinated people should continue to wear masks.
“It is a shame our elected leaders feel the need to end this historically difficult year on such an uninformed note,” he said.
The CDC has advised that schools continue to use masks and social distancing until the end of the school year. COVID-19 vaccines are still not approved for children under the age of 12.
While the Iowa Department of Public Health has proposed that face coverings be made optional in schools, some schools in the state kept their requirements.
Rep. Steven Holt, R-Denison, said this is about freedom.
“If we believe that vaccines work, if we believe that masks work, then fine, get the vaccine, wear the mask, and don’t worry about what other people are doing,” Holt said. “You be you, and you let them be them.”
The Ankeny Community School District announced on Thursday morning that it would allow teachers, employees, and others to choose whether or not to wear masks in its buildings.
“We continue to strongly recommend that face coverings be worn, in alignment with the guidance from the CDC that individuals who have not been vaccinated continue to wear masks indoors,” the district stated in an online statement. “Additionally, it is still vitally important that any students or staff members who are feeling ill stay home.”
In a letter sent to its employees and families on Thursday morning, Johnston Community School District declared that face masks are now optional.
Bondurant-Farrar, Johnston, Urbandale, Waukee, and West Des Moines are among the central Iowa school districts that have removed face-covering requirements.
“As a district, we are still encouraging anyone who has not been vaccinated to wear a mask,” read a statement on the district’s website in West Des Moines. “The majority of our students do not yet have access to the vaccine or will not be fully vaccinated. We believe this is a critical step in our fight against the virus.”
Sen. Sarah Trone Garriott (D-Windsor Heights) said a friend had to take her medically vulnerable son and his siblings out of school after his school suddenly stopped requiring masks.
“The kids didn’t get to say goodbye to their friends. They missed band concerts, choir concerts. There were lots of tears this week,” Trone Garriott said. “But it’s not safe for them to be around unmasked, unvaccinated people in a building because Hans’ life is on the line. They can’t risk him. And it’s been horrible these last three days. Is that really what you want for medically vulnerable children all over Iowa?”
Democrats opposed the bill, arguing that it is an overreach by the state that might discourage communities from responding to future local health emergencies.
“This is about public health,” said Rep. Marti Anderson (D-Des Moines). “People may not want to wear a mask. I didn’t like wearing a mask. I hated it. But don’t we have a responsibility to protect the health of the people around us?”