Aug 23, 2021 - COVID

Pro-mask group offers Des Moines school district $7K in legal aid

A photo of a young girl wearing a mask by a sign that says "Masks required to enter."

Screenshot via Iowans for Universal Masks in Schools Facebook page

A group fighting Iowa's school mask ban has offered Des Moines Public Schools more than $7K in legal aid to ignore state law and require face coverings, records obtained by Axios show.

Why it matters: The offer from Iowans for Universal Masks in Schools last week underscores some community members' elevated anxiety ahead of the new school year starting Wednesday, which comes as hospitalizations are on the rise.

  • More than 82,000 kids in Polk County aren't yet eligible to be vaccinated, generally because they are under age 12, according to the county's health department.

Of note: The money offered by the Iowans for Universal Masks in Schools group was pledged by, a separate entity.

Catch up fast: Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a law in May that prohibits districts from mandating masks. Seven other states passed similar restrictions.

  • President Biden's administration sent Reynolds a letter last week, saying the law may infringe on a district's authority to adopt policies to protect students.
  • DMPS superintendent Thomas Ahart said last week he'll defy Reynolds' orders if the school board approves a mask mandate.

But, tensions linked with schooling during the pandemic were high well before Reynolds signed the ban.

  • An administrative law judge ruled on May 20 that Ahart had violated his ethical duty by not immediately resuming in-class instruction last fall. (He was given a letter of reprimand by the state's licensing agency.)

Between the lines: School is scheduled to start without a mask mandate. District officials say they have no practical way to isolate students or staff who decline to wear one voluntarily.

  • DMPS is also offering virtual instruction to K-12 grades. More than 1.4K of the district's roughly 32K students were enrolled in the virtual option, as of Thursday.

What they're saying: An emergency school board meeting should be called to pass a mask mandate before Wednesday, Tanya Keith, a Des Moines parent and one of the pro-mask group's leaders, told Axios Sunday.

  • Group members believe at least three of the seven members support the action, she said.
  • District spokesperson Phil Roeder said Sunday that there's no need to consider accepting the group's legal aid offer because there is no pending action at this time.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify that a separate entity, IowaHomeRule, pledged the money that was offered to DMPS.


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