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Iowa City parents ask district to require masks in spite of state ban

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IOWA CITY, Iowa (KWWL) - Over 1,000 parents asked the Iowa City Community School District Board of Directors this week to enact a mask mandate for the new school year. While this would go against state law, the parents say it is worth it.

"We need kids back in school and the way to do that safely is to wear masks," Jonna Higgins-Freese said, who started the petition. The petition points out that both the CDC and American Association of Pediatrics say universal masking is part of a safe return to the classroom.

The petition was submitted during public comment at Tuesday's board meeting. Superintendent Matt Degner said he has been pleasantly surprised with the amount of people voluntarily masking to start the year but it is not 100%.

"It's not where we'd like it to be in terms of that," Degner said to the school board. "We continue to encourage them. That was a theme through the welcome back week."

Degner said they have spent hours looking over HF 847, which bans schools from having mask mandates, but do not see a way to enforce masks legally at this time.

"We considered a wide variety of responses to the Iowa statute," ICCSD legal counsel Joe Holland said. "I don’t think we can be blind to political consequences there might be or consequences that could come back to the district."

Parents who signed this petition understand the risk but say it should not outweigh their kids' safety.

"They (school administrators) are people with jobs and families and everything else, but I also feel like if any community can stand up to what's happening in Des Moines, it's Iowa City," Brook Easton said, who signed the petition.

Other parents want their district to follow the law. They enjoy masks being a personal choice and remind these parents that there is an online schooling option.

"It's about freedom of choice and if a parent is so living in fear about their child getting the illness by being in a school where not everybody is masked…they have the option of putting their kid on online education," Jenni Mitchell said, a mother of three in the district.

Lawyer Joe Holland told parents their best course of action might be to sue the governor themselves. A Council Bluffs mother took that very step this week.

In Texas, where there is also a ban on mask mandates, some school districts have made masks part of their dress codes as a loophole. An ICCSD spokesperson said Thursday they are not currently exploring that.

HF 847 does have an exception for dress codes, but only in regards to face protection for shop and woodworking classes.

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Travis Breese

Reporter, Iowa City

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