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Mask mandate ends for Ankeny schools

Ankeny school board members Ryan Weldon (left) and Katie Claeys listen to the district’s attorney explain a court ruling against Iowa’s ban on school mask mandates during a meeting on September 14, 2021.
Grant Gerlock
IPR file
Ankeny school board members Ryan Weldon (left) and Katie Claeys listen to the district’s attorney explain a court ruling against Iowa’s ban on school mask mandates during a meeting on Sept. 14, 2021.

Masks are no longer required in Ankeny Community School District buildings to protect against the coronavirus. Ankeny school board members voted 4-3 Tuesday night to end the district’s mask mandate, effective Wednesday morning.

Masks will still be required on school buses throughout the district, according to federal policy.

The result of the vote shows the impact of November’s school board election. Republicans Trent Murphy, Joy Burk and Sarah Barthole each opposed requiring masks and won seats on the board. They joined board member Ryan Weldon to make up the votes that reversed the district’s mask policy.

Supt. Erick Pruitt had recommended keeping a mask requirement in place until classes dismiss for winter break on Dec. 21. After a motion passed to end the mandate immediately, board member Katie Claeys unsuccessfully asked to allow more time for students to be vaccinated.

“We’re looking at 10 school days until Dec. 21, so giving those families that opportunity to get their kids to full inoculation seems very logical to me,” she said.

Board member Sarah Barthole said she supports making the change now for parents who favor making the choice for their kids.

“And those people may still choose to wear a mask for the last 10 days of school and we would encourage and support that,” Barthole said. “And we would also encourage them if they choose not to wear a mask.”

The CDC continues to recommend that schools use universal masking to protect against spreading COVID-19, along with other measures such as physical distancing and increased ventilation.

The Des Moines Register reported last month that 1,408 Ankeny students were granted exemptions to the district’s mandate, primarily based on religious beliefs. Claeys questioned why that was not enough of a choice to keep the mandate in place for others.

Board member Ryan Weldon responded that he felt he could not claim a religious exemption for his own family, but said his son is “devastated” by wearing a mask every day.

“Giving him the opportunity that he wants to have a fair and equitable education is what I believe that I should do for him and for everyone else in the district that believes the same way,” Weldon said.

The district’s mandate was put in place in September after a federal judge blocked enforcement of Iowa’s law against school-issued mask mandates.

The ruling favored a group of parents of children with disabilities and health conditions such as asthma and cerebral palsy. They argue the law violates the education rights of their children who could face serious health risks by sharing a room with unmasked classmates. Ankeny is one of ten school districts named directly in the lawsuit.

A panel with the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals is preparing to rule on whether to uphold that decision or allow the state to enforce the ban.

Other districts have also revised their mask policies since COVID-19 vaccines became available for children 5-11 years-old.

Tuesday night’s decision in Ankeny follows a vote last week by the Johnston Board of Education to reverse that district’s mask mandate. The Linn-Mar school district will stop requiring masks after students return from winter break on Jan. 3.

Masks are now optional in the Council Bluffs Community School District unless the percentage of students and staff members in a building with COVID-19 is four percent or higher.

Grant Gerlock is a reporter covering Des Moines and central Iowa