Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
Iowa Schools find themselves between a rock and a hard place when it comes to mask policies on school buses. If rules don’t change before fall, districts will have to choose between violating a state law or a presidential executive order.
The executive order, signed by President Joe Biden in January 2021, requires passengers to wear masks on “all forms of public transportation.”
Gov. Kim Reynolds, in contrast, signed a bill in May barring public and private school administrations, from adopting or enforcing face mask requirements for any reason.
Highland Superintendent Ken Crawford said schools are in a no-win situation.
“That conflict puts schools in a very tough position,” he said. “I’m just disappointed that the politics of this scenario play out into the school when we’re just trying to do the simple thing of educating children.”
Crawford said the district ended its mask policy on buses in the closing days of the 2020-21 school year in accordance with state rules but has not committed to a policy for next school year.
Many other districts have taken the same “wait-and-see” approach. Mid-Prairie Superintendent Mark Schneider said the issue wasn’t yet on the school board’s radar given the low use of school transportation over the summer.
“Hopefully by the time school starts they’ll have the issue all straightened out, then figure out the state and the federal,” he said. “I’m always hoping that cooler heads prevail at the federal level and compromise and collaboration is possible.”
Washington Superintendent Willie Stone said the district was prepared to bite the bullet and follow the executive mandate after consulting its attorney.
“Since it’s something that came from the president’s office, it’s something that we are required to follow, no matter what the state says,” Stone said. “Personally I would rather not do it because it goes against what our state’s doing, it goes against our past practice as far as not requiring masks at school.”
While there’s been some push back to the decision, Stone said the community understood the school’s difficult position.
“People are upset with it, but they also understand it,” he said. “We’re following what’s been passed down, we’re following the rules.”
Other area school districts, including New London, Cardinal, Mt. Pleasant and Winfield-Mt. Union, have decided to follow the new state law.
New London Superintendent Chad Wahls said the executive order didn’t apply.
“We don't consider our buses to be public transportation as we don't make stops and pick up various riders,” Wahls said. “All bus routes stay consistent and only pick up the students that are scheduled to ride each individual route.
“If we aren't requiring students to wear masks any other time of the day or activity, we will not expect students to wear masks while riding the bus to and from school.”
Cardinal Superintendent Joel Pedersen said the law was clear, but he had concerns with the spread of the delta variant.
“We may encourage masks, but I don't see my board requiring masks unless guidance changes at the state level,” Pedersen said. “I am concerned by the delta variant and will monitor the situation very closely and make modifications if needed. Our No. 1 goal is to have in-person learning at Cardinal.”