Gov. Kim Reynolds spoke to the press about mask mandates in school. (Photo by Katie Akin / Iowa Capital Dispatch)
Just days before Iowa students return to the classrooms, Gov. Kim Reynolds is standing firm against school mask mandates.
Reynolds told reporters Thursday that parents have approached her at the Iowa State Fair, “tears in their eyes,” and thanked her for bringing kids back to school without masks. School districts were allowed to require masks until May, when Reynolds enacted a law that prohibits them from requiring face coverings outside of a statewide mandate.
“Parents are in the best position to make that decision,” Reynolds said Thursday.
The national fight over school mask mandates has ramped up in the past several weeks. Several Republican-led states have enacted similar laws to prevent schools from requiring kids to wear masks. School districts in Texas and Florida have rebelled, instating mandates anyway. President Joe Biden has promised to back those local mask mandates with federal funds.
“As I’ve said before, if you aren’t going to fight COVID-19, at least get out of the way of everyone else who is trying,” Biden said Wednesday. “You know, we’re not going to sit by as governors try to block and intimidate educators protecting our children.”
Biden ordered the Department of Education on Wednesday to take action against states that are hindering mask mandates. The Biden administration also plans to send letters to six other states, including Iowa, criticizing Republican governors’ prohibitions on school mask mandates.
Reynolds pointed to her actions last year, when she required schools to offer at least half of instruction in person from the beginning of the school year. In January, she signed a law that required schools to offer full-time, in-person options.
“I think it’s incredible that he’s coming after me when we led the country in getting our kids back in school, doing it safely and responsibly,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds also asked what data the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention used to justify school mask mandates. The CDC currently recommends all students, teachers, staff and school visitors wear masks inside. Masks should be used in addition to social distancing, contact tracing and vaccination for students who are at least 12 years old.
Iowa Democrats call for mandates, additional federal funding
Iowa Democrats on Thursday called for Reynolds to allow schools to require masks. They also demanded that the state start reporting COVID-19 data daily, instead of weekly, and that Reynolds accept $95 million in federal funds that she declined in the spring.
“Republicans have created a false choice between no in-person school and extremely unsafe schools,” Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls of Coralville said.
In addition to her stance against local mask mandates, Reynolds said Wednesday that she does not intend to request the $95 million back from the federal government. The money was initially meant for COVID-19 testing that would allow schools to reopen. Iowa schools were already operational, so Reynolds said it would be inappropriate to accept the money.
“(School districts) have money, we have money, DHS has money … It’s not a lack of funding,” Reynolds told reporters.
Reynolds said Wednesday the state would change the way it reports data as needed. She said a “refresh” of the state’s COVID-19 website is in progress.
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