Saying they are “are no longer the silent majority,” Iowa parents and educators rallied in front of the Statehouse to speak out against Gov. Kim Reynolds’ ban on school mask requirements. About 150 in all gathered outside in the morning heat to urge Reynolds to reverse her decision as the school year nears.
The event was organized by five Iowa parents (Michelle Baltes-Breitwisch, Erin Dahl, Brook Easton, Julie Russell-Steuart, Gwen Fletcher) and involved remarks from Iowa doctors, elected officials and activists.
Dr. Megan Srinivas, an infections disease physician and health policy researcher in Fort Dodge, spoke about the risk to kids from COVID, pointing out that children do get sick from COVID and they can die. She said she was at the event because too many people were ignoring the facts, ignoring the hard work done by scientists and public health officials and ignoring the people who have died from COVID.
“Masking is the least Gov. Reynolds could do,” Srinivas said.
State Sen. Claire Celsi led a moment of silence to honor the teachers who died from COVID-19 in the past year—22 of which names were known, and at least three more.
“We are here to lay out the case for fixing this mistake and protecting our kids and communities,” she said.
Concerned parents and citizens also spoke.
“I have a message for Gov. Reynolds,” said Russell-Steuart, one of the organizers. “You can change your mind. We all make mistakes.”
She emphasized that Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson did. In the wake of a COVID surge in his state, Hutchinson said he regretted banning local officials from mandating masks.
Most of the parents who attended hoped Reynolds would look at this event and give local public health officials the authority to mandate masks when the situation gets bad in their communities.
“There’s no hope right now so this is all we can do,” said Chris Shivers, who was at the event with his wife and one of their children.
His children go to the Ankeny School District and he said he wished they could switch to the Des Moines School District, where administrators seem to take COVID seriously.
“We have to counter-act the nonsense,” he said.
The highly contagious Delta variant of COVID-19 has fueled most of this urgency. Because children younger than 12 cannot be vaccinated yet, they’re more vulnerable to catching the virus, and are likely to spread it to others.
That’s why organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control have urged schools to implement mask requirements for this coming school year.
Iowa parents are concerned about a school year with little preventative measures in place, especially those with children who can’t get vaccinated yet. Worries range from children getting sick to children spreading the virus to other members of the family and the community who are at more risk for serious illness. Those risk factors—for both children and the people around them—include weakened immune systems, health conditions and disabilities.
“I’m here because I want the Governor to listen to others, not just herself,” said Elliott Wolf, a 10-year-old who was at the event with his mom, Kelli Wolf.
She’s a teacher at a small school district in Madrid, and she said outbreaks there have the potential to spread rapidly.
“I really hope Reynolds will follow the lead of other governors,” Wolf said. “I know people are exhausted and just want to say it’s over, but it’s not.”
Elliott said he did online school and he hated it, so he was excited when he had the chance to go back with masks.
At the end of the legislative session in May, and after the lobbying of anti-vaccine advocates, Reynolds signed a bill banning Iowa schools from requiring students and faculty wear masks.
Research has shown over and over that masks help cut down on the spread of COVID-19, especially when paired with additional measures like social distancing, ventilation and, most importantly, vaccines.
More than 80 percent of the country’s current cases are caused by the variant, and most people with serious illnesses and who end up in the hospital are unvaccinated.
Dr. Glenn Hurst, who is running for the US Senate, said hospitals are filling up with COVID cases, and that it’s taking bed space away from heart patients and people with other emergencies.
“That’s anti-Iowan, anti-health care and anti-American,” he said of the state’s current policies.
None of the event have been possible without social media posts from concerned parents, particularly organizer Brook Easton, who said she was amazed at the response and turnout.
“We are here, we are loud and we are ready to get to work,” she told the crowd.
by Nikoel Hytrek