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Demonstrators Urge Lawmakers To Allow Mask Mandates In Schools

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Kassidy Arena
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Organizers and guest speakers talked about their wish to rescind the state's ban on mask mandates in front of the Iowa State Capitol on Wednesday. Most people scattered across the lawn to stay socially distanced from one another.

Most demonstrators were parents, but children and medical professionals were also sprinkled throughout the grounds in front of the Iowa Capitol Building. Rows of shoes led up to the speakers to represent school employees who have died from COVID-19.

Democratic State Sen. Claire Celsi read 22 names, along with three "unknown" employees. She followed the list of names with one second of silence for every individual who died. At the end of the moment of silence, Celsi told the crowd she has received concerns from parents from all over the state about sending their unvaccinated children back to school with "no protection."

The “Safe at school sit in” urged Iowa lawmakers to allow districts the option of mandating masks in schools or mandating all schools to require masks. In May, Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a law that made it illegal to require masks in schools.

Infectious disease physician Megan Srinivas was one of the speakers at the event. She wore a blue T-shirt that said "SCIENCE FOR SAFE SCHOOLS" in all capital letters, and a white mask. She pulled down the mask when she stepped up to the microphone. She said COVID-19 cases are spreading more quickly since the delta variant was introduced.

"And we know we have the tools to prevent it from happening. We know that if we put into effect a mass mandate, where a community even wears a mask for a total of three weeks, we can see the reverse completely in the case trends," she said. “The fact that our state leaders are standing in the way of doing the right thing, of not enabling us to wear masks, to use the science to protect our kids, that is an abominable statement."

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 91 of the state’s 99 counties are now considered to have substantial or high COVID spread. The CDC has recommended universal indoor masking of all people in schools, regardless of vaccination status.

In response to the demonstrators, Reynolds issued a statement saying, “Parental control is local control and parents have the option to send their kids to school with a mask or not. As I have throughout this pandemic, I trust Iowans to do the right thing and make the decisions about what’s best for themselves and their family.”

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Tanya Keith, mother of three, stood in front of shoes representing all the school employees who have died of COVID-19. Her 6-year-old daughter has dyslexia, so in-person school is a better option for her. "It is really scary to me that she is going to go in with practically no protections," Keith said.

Tanya Keith is a mother of three. She started a grassroots campaign on Facebook to promote universal mask mandates in Iowa. Her youngest is 6 and not eligible for a vaccine, and she also has dyslexia. So Keith said she does better in in-person school environments. Keith opposes the ban on mask mandates that was signed shortly after midnight on Thursday, May 20.

“I call it the midnight mask massacre. They signed this bill with no public input. They started this thing in May when we didn't know about delta variant," Keith said. "It's okay that people make mistakes. It's time for the Iowa GOP and the governor to say things have changed.”

Julie Russell-Steuart, one of the organizers of the event, is the chair of the Disability Caucus for the Iowa Democratic Party. She said many parents share the same concern as Keith for their children who may need special or different attention. Russell-Steuart added this sort of accommodation will be made difficult for both educators and students if there is not a mask mandate in the schools.

Other speakers joined Srinivas including Glenn Hurst, a family medicine specialist from Minden and Austin Baeth, an internal medicine specialist from Des Moines.

"There is no downside to wearing a mask. It's an act of compassion. Why not use the occasion of a historic pandemic to teach our children the virtue of caring for others?" Baeth asked.

Two opposing protesters attended the demonstration.