Leaders need to be role models

Bruce Lear reviews Iowa Republican leaders’ latest words and actions on COVID-19. -promoted by Laura Belin

There have always been individuals in jobs we hold to a higher standard. We expect more from them because they are in the public spotlight and have a certain prestige.

To name just a few, we expect doctors, teachers, and star athletes to serve as role models, and most of these professions follow a code of ethics. If that code is broken, the public or their employer scream foul.

I guess Iowa Republican legislators and our governor don’t consider themselves role models, or they would require masks and social distancing at the capitol. Also, their policies would protect students and educators by allowing local decision making.

The Iowa House has 59 Republican members and the Iowa Senate has 31 GOP senators. Many in both caucuses refuse to wear masks, creating an unsafe environment.

Generally, the Iowa legislative session lasts about four months. For four months during the winter and early spring, the legislature potentially creates superspreader events during the week, just in time for lawmakers to infect family, friends, and constituents in the districts they represent over the weekend.

The Iowa capitol is more a petri dish of virus than an incubator of ideas.

Legislators who believe in social distancing and masking are left to find some isolated place in the capitol to work until required to be on the floor for debate and vote. Constituents will have to play the game of “Risk,” if they want to visit the capitol.

But the worst insult to Iowa’s sick and often dying of COVID-19 was the no mask protest at the capitol on the first day of the session. 

State Senator Joe Bolkcom’s photo of the January 11 rally at the Iowa capitol

Certainly, people have the First Amendment right to express ignorant, anti-science ideas, but they don’t have the right to knowingly expose citizen law makers to a virus that could kill them or their families.

It’s not illegal.

It’s immoral.

Leaders who are role models also follow advice from experts, and their statements match their actions. That’s not what Governor Kim Reynolds and her allies in the legislature are doing now. For years, the GOP was the party of local control.

The governor has made no secret that she wants in person school no matter what and will demand the Iowa legislature pass a law requiring all schools to offer in-person instruction five days a week. She spins this request as giving parents more choice. But in reality, it gives some parents what they want, and gives educators no choice.

Educators want to be face to face with students too, but they want everyone to be safe. Educators are constant role models for students. They wear masks, social distance, and practice safe hygiene. Unlike the governor, educators do more than talk about it. They live it, and it’s still not enough to keep everyone safe.

I understand local control began to erode under the heavy hand of Governor Terry Branstad, when he made viewing the majesty of the Butter Cow at the State Fair more important than letting local school officials decide what date worked best for their districts to start school.

The next affront to local control of Iowa schools came during Branstad’s last year in office. He and the new Republican legislative majority gutted a 40-year-old public sector collective bargaining law that had allowed local districts to problem solve at an equal bargaining table.

Forcing children and educators into potentially unsafe buildings would be the final nail in the local control coffin.

Obviously, this demand for one hundred percent face-to-face learning, regardless of community spread, flies in the face of medical advice and over the objections of local administrators, teachers, and school board members.  During her Condition of the State speech on January 12, the governor failed to guarantee when educators who want the COVID-19 vaccine would receive it.

If Reynolds is convinced that she knows better than every local school leader, she should lobby to disband local school boards and end the pretense that she and her party still believe in local control. Apparently in her mind there must be no difference between Coon Rapids and Des Moines.

I think Iowa expects our leaders to be role models. If that’s the case, the public will need to hold the majority party and governor accountable or choose new leadership.

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and retired after 38 years of being connected to public schools. He was a teacher for eleven years and a regional director for the Iowa State Education Association for 27 years until retirement. 

Top photo: Screenshot from Zoom showing Republican State Senators Julian Garrett (left) and Jason Schultz sitting side by side, unmasked, during an hour-long Iowa Senate Judiciary subcommittee meeting on January 14. The Democrat on the panel, Senator Tony Bisignano, participated remotely and wore a mask when he spoke.

  • Very small clarification

    My recollection is that the Iowa Republican Party stopped being the party of local control back in the Nineties, when the Iowa hoglot industry metastasized. After that statewide betrayal of rural Iowans, I’d bet other local-control betrayals became easier, even educational betrayals. And betrayals will be even easier this year. As someone else glumly put it, I never thought I’d be living in Kansas, but here we are.

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