Iowa Republicans stand firm against mask mandates in schools

By: - August 4, 2021 5:24 pm

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted emergency authorization Friday to Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for 5- to 11-year-olds. (Stock photo/Getty Images)

The Republican governor of Arkansas is walking back a prohibition on mask requirements this week, but Iowa Republicans said Wednesday they’re sticking by their law to forbid schools and local governments from imposing mask mandates.

“The governor is proud of the bill she signed,” Gov. Kim Reynolds’s spokesperson Pat Garrett wrote in an email. “[She] believes these decisions are best left up to parents.”

Reynolds signed House File 847 into law in late May, immediately overturning mask requirements in schools for the final weeks of the school year. Leaders of Iowa’s House and Senate concurred that they do not plan to change the law to allow mask mandates as back-to-school approaches and the delta variant of COVID-19 spreads. 

“Senate Republicans have consistently implemented policies to give parents more control over their children’s education, including whether or not their child wears a mask,” Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver wrote. “I do not anticipate any changes to that law.”

Arkansas governor reverses course for young children

The Arkansas legislature in April passed a law to prohibit state agencies and local governments and officials from requiring masks. 

But on Tuesday, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson walked back his earlier commitment to the bill. He said that he regretted signing it into law and called legislators back for an “extraordinary session,” asking them to create an exception for local entities to require masks for children under 12, who cannot yet be vaccinated.

“Some argue it should be up to the parents to decide for the children. For that reason, school boards will have many options after listening to the parents,” Hutchinson said in a news release. “The goal is to be safe and to keep schools open. Local flexibility will help get us there.”

Hutchinson cited specific concerns with the delta variant of COVID-19 and increasing numbers of Arkansas children in the hospital. 

Other states double down against masks

Iowa is one of several Republican-controlled states to prohibit local mask requirements. In the past week, the governors of Texas and Florida issued executive orders to forbid local entities from requiring masks. 

“[Texans] have the individual right and responsibility to decide for themselves and their children whether they will wear masks, open their businesses, and engage in leisure activities,” said Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in a news release.

President Joe Biden on Tuesday condemned the executive orders, telling the Texas and Florida governors to “get out of the way of the people who are trying to do the right thing.”

Some school districts in other states have elected to require masks despite the law. Tampa news station WFLA reported that two Florida school districts voted Tuesday to require masks, potentially putting their state funding at risk.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that everyone, vaccinated or unvaccinated, wear masks indoors where there is “high” or “substantial” spread of the virus

What are Iowa’s laws on mask mandates?

Reynolds signed House File 847 into law in the early hours of May 20. Here’s what it does:

  • Schools may not require employees, students or visitors to wear masks unless the mask is “necessary for a specific extracurricular or instructional purpose.”
  • Counties may not adopt any policy that requires people to wear masks in businesses.
  • Cities may not adopt any policy that requires people to wear masks in businesses.
  • Businesses may still require masks — the decision is left up to the business owner.

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Katie Akin
Katie Akin

Katie Akin is a former Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter. Katie began her career as an intern at PolitiFact, debunking viral fake news and fact-checking state and national politicians. She moved to Iowa in 2019 for a politics internship at the Des Moines Register, where she assisted with Iowa Caucus coverage, multimedia projects and the Register’s Iowa Poll. She became the Register’s retail reporter in early 2020, chronicling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Central Iowa’s restaurants and retailers.