In its guidance released Thursday for coming back to classrooms, the Iowa Department of Education discouraged K-12 schools from requiring face masks when staff and students return.

Covering the mouth is recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to prevent the spread of COVID-19. For schools, the CDC has recommended masks when feasible and especially when physical distancing is difficult, however, the American Academy of Pediatrics have offered evidence to the contrary.

In its most recent release the AAP stated: “Schools are critical to addressing racial and social inequity. School closure and virtual educational modalities have had a differential impact at both the individual and population level for diverse racial, ethnic, and vulnerable groups, according to the guidance. Evidence from spring 2020 school closures points to negative impacts on learning. Children and adolescents also have been placed at higher risk of morbidity and mortality from physical or sexual abuse, substance use, anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation.

“The AAP strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school.” (See the complete AAP statement Page 9).

Iowa’s guidance, while acknowledging schools “may not be able to guarantee that physical distancing can be met in all school settings throughout the entire school day,” does not recommend districts require the face coverings.

Instead, the department recommends teaching and reinforcing to prevent stigmas “associated with the use or non-use of facial coverings to support a respectful, inclusive, and supportive school environment.”

The information published Thursday is the department’s “final high-level guidance,” said Iowa Department of Education spokeswoman Heather Doe, and is based on current public health conditions in the state. New guidance will not be published unless public health conditions change.

The IDE released a new statement Friday saying the guidance “needs further clarification.”

School facilities have been closed since mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic, though Gov. Kim Reynolds allowed voluntary summer activities and some sports to resume this month. All school activities may resume July 1.

As of Thursday, more than 27,250 Iowans have tested positive for COVID-19, according to state data, and nearly 700 have died because of it.

Although cases in Iowa largely have been among adults, health experts have cautioned that children can be carriers of the disease, and the CDC still is investigating cases of Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children associated with COVID-19. Cedar Rapids hospitals last month treated at least two children with the syndrome.

The Iowa Department of Education guidance goes on to outline a total of 10 health and safety requirements for public school districts and accredited private schools when they reopen.

Iowa State Education Association President Mike Beranek, who represents the state’s largest teachers’ union, said in a statement Thursday he was “deeply disappointed” in the guidance.

“The Iowa Department of Education’s reopening guidance is inconsistent with CDC Guidance, common sense and good public policy and we cannot recommend support,” said Beranek, a West Des Moines teacher, in the statement.

Executive Director Roark Horn of School Administrators of Iowa, whose members include school superintendents and principals, said he expected more details from the department.

“The Reopening Guidance did not line up with what school leaders were expecting,” Horn said. “Based on previous guidance, such as that for baseball and softball, administrators were anticipating more specifics for things like social distancing and the use of face coverings.”

Read the June 30, 2020 edition of the Chariton Leader/Herald-Patriot for the rest of the story.

Recommended for you