Governor's own words helped sink mask mandate ban in court

A federal court confirmed on October 8 that Iowa cannot enforce the state’s ban on mask mandates in public schools, pending resolution of a lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Iowa on behalf of a disability advocacy group and eleven parents of children with disabilities.

U.S. District Court Senior Judge Robert Pratt’s preliminary injunction follows a temporary restraining order he issued and extended last month, putting the law on hold. About two dozen Iowa school districts, including most of the largest, have since reimposed mask mandates, affecting more than 150,000 students.

The state immediately appealed Pratt’s ruling to the Eighth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. In a written statement, Reynolds said, “We will never stop fighting for the rights of parents to decide what is best for their children and to uphold state laws enacted by our elected legislators. We will defend the rights and liberties afforded to all American citizens protected by our constitution.” 

The governor’s bluster is not consistent with the state’s own legal arguments, which have not asserted the Iowa or U.S. constitutions establish any right not to wear masks, or to have one’s children remain unmasked at school.

The irony is that Reynolds’ own public statements have bolstered the plaintiffs’ case against the law Republicans rushed to enact in May.

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UNI professor, students won't declare mask conflict resolved

The University of Northern Iowa is keen to move beyond the controversy over its decision to discipline a biology professor who insisted that students wear masks in his class. The university announced on October 6 that it had “reached an agreement” with Professor Steve O’Kane after “listening to the concerns and working closely with all parties involved.” O’Kane will teach an advanced plant systematics course online, and another faculty member will take over the classroom teaching, where participants won’t have to cover their noses and mouths.

The written statement asserted, “UNI continues to support the rights of all our faculty, staff and students and is pleased to have reached a resolution that protects all of those involved.”

O’Kane and his students don’t feel their interests were protected.

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Let's not change the definition of local control

Bruce Lear: Instead of allowing elected school boards to make decisions for a school district, Iowa’s governor now defines local control as parents deciding what’s best for their own children.

I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating, especially since Governor Kim Reynolds has altered the definition of local control to justify signing a mask mandate ban for schools. There’s a reason “Community” is the middle name for almost every public school district in Iowa. 

Public schools are often a town’s largest employer as well as the community center. On Friday nights, the school’s fields or gyms can be the center of the universe for young athletes and their parents.

In fact, the relationship is symbiotic. The community helps the school thrive, and the school helps a community survive.

Too bad Reynolds distrusts Iowa communities so much she won’t allow local control over safety decisions fitting the community. Instea≈ and is appealing a federal court decision that put the mask mandate ban on hold. 

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UNI's pandering to anti-maskers reaches new depths

The University of Northern Iowa (UNI) has punished biology Professor Steve O’Kane and threatened him with possible termination after he told students to wear masks in a course he teaches in person, Vanessa Miller reported for the Cedar Rapids Gazette. None of O’Kane’s students had complained about the request. All who had signed up for his specialized class are now left without a qualified instructor.

It’s the latest example of how Iowa’s state universities and their governing body value the feelings of anti-maskers over the health and safety of students and staff, reducing the quality of education and bringing faculty morale to new lows.

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Catholic nuns to Cindy Axne: Tax the rich

Sister Jeanie and Sister Elaine Hagedorn, who co-authored this post, are Catholic sisters with the Congregation of the Humility of Mary. They live in Des Moines and are longtime advocates for Catholic social justice with groups like NETWORK.

No matter where we come from or what we look like, Iowans believe that working families deserve a fair shot. All work has value, and all working people have rights, from farmworkers in vibrant rural towns to factory workers in our bustling cities. But for too long, a greedy few corporations and CEOs have rigged the game in Iowa and across the world, taking from working people to make sure that a powerful few can get rich off the profit that working Iowans, particularly Black and Brown working Iowans, produce.

For years, wages in Iowa have stagnated for everyone, and the racial wealth gap has exacerbated inequalities embedded in our economic system. In particular, Black, Brown, and Indigenous workers have been pushed to the economic margins by systemic inequality in our tax code. Meanwhile, the climate crisis continues to put all Iowa families at risk as storms like the 2020 derecho devastate working neighborhoods.

As Catholic nuns with decades of ministry experience in Iowa, we have worked closely with those most impacted by Iowa’s inequities. Union workers, immigrant communities, hungry children, and houseless families have turned to social services, religious communities, and mutual aid efforts because of our state and federal government’s misplaced priorities.

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Iowa could learn from Sin City

Bruce Lear shares lessons learned from a recent visit to Las Vegas, where mask mandates are enforced.

I just returned from Las Vegas. Yes, sin city. Where “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.”  Yet, Iowa could learn from this place of no limits.  A sentence I thought I’d never write.

Vegas has a strict mask policy in all casinos, shows, restaurants, bars, and public transportation. It’s enforced. You can enjoy your freedom to lose your money, marvel at a glitzy show, watch the Raiders, the bad boys of the NFL, but you don’t have freedom to skip wearing a mask.

But in wholesome Iowa, land of the Field of Dreams, we just can’t bring ourselves to mandate masks at the grocery store or in schools. In Iowa, we’re quicker to help a down-and-out neighbor harvest corn than to wear a piece of cloth over our mouths and noses to protect that same neighbor’s health. Ironic, don’t you think?

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