In a special school board meeting held Monday, the Johnston Community School District removed the mask requirement for all ages and grade levels in a 4-3 vote.
Among the four who voted to remove the requirement were new board members Deb Davis, Clint Evans and Derek Tidball. Board Vice President Alicia Clevenger also voted yes.
The special meeting was called to review the district’s mask policy. The recommendation from the administration was to lift it for grades 8-12, and extend it for younger grades through Dec. 23. The change is meant to coincide with vaccination opportunities for everyone.
Evans amended the recommendation to change the wording so it included all students now.
His reasoning was that splitting the requirement would lead to confusion and that removing the requirement was partly why he was elected.
“If it’s a decision that is right for some, I believe it’s a decision that’s right for all,” Evans said. “We were elected in largely because of removing this mask mandate. Following through with an election promise. It’s something that I believe in. I feel like we have a lot of support in the community to do so.”
In September the Johnston School Board voted 4-3 to require everyone wear masks indoors during school hours. At the time, the Delta variant was fueling COVID-19 spikes in Iowa, and a federal judge suspended the state law banning mask requirements.
Since then, the board has gained three new conservative members in Davis, Evans and Tidball, all who campaigned against mask requirements.
Davis said she supported removal because of children’s social and emotional health and because she believes requirements are infringements on liberty.
“Because of this, I’m parent choice on masking to uphold the individual rights of all concerned,” she said.
Clevenger voted to remove masks for all ages because of how inconsistent masking is when it comes to extracurriculars and to neighboring schools.
“If you really look at numbers, unmasked schools versus masked schools, there’s not a lot of difference, and so I am good with mask removal,” she said.
Board member Sooneeta Mangra-Dutcher said she wanted to keep mask requirements in place until everyone had the chance to be vaccinated, and she voted against the amended language that would remove masks for everyone. Even though she wanted masks to continue until break, she agreed with the original language of the recommendation.
“My vote is to protect as many kids as possible,” she said. “If this will get us at least a majority of our kids protected then this is a best way to move forward at this point.”
As of Nov. 28, 69% of Iowa’s population older than 18 is vaccinated, while 72% of children 12 and older have at least one dose. There have been 7,952 positive cases in the past seven days in Iowa and 665 COVID patients are in the hospital.
by Nikoel Hytrek