No Masks, Social Distancing Required for Iowa Schools Reopening

June 26, 2020 Updated: June 26, 2020

Students returning to school this fall in Iowa will be met with the normalcy they knew before the pandemic, as new state guidelines for reopening K-12 schools have no requirements for physical distancing, face coverings, or health screenings at the entrance.

Released by the Iowa Department of Education on Thursday, the guidance (pdf) says students and teachers who wish to wear protective masks are free to do so, but mandatory face coverings for all is not recommended. It also encourages schools to teach students not to bully others based on their choice to wear or not wear a mask.

“Teach and reinforce the prevention of stigma associated with the use or non-use of facial coverings to support a respectful, inclusive, and supportive school environment,” the guidance reads, referencing an earlier Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guideline concerning stigma associated with wearing or not wearing masks.

Schools are also not recommended to screen students and staff upon entering the building. “One symptom is not necessarily indicative of communicable disease,” the guidance says. “Some individuals may be ill and have no symptoms.”

Regarding physical distancing, the guidance acknowledges the fact that it is so hard to be enforced because of the way “children congregate in their community,” and makes no requirements for it.

“Schools may not be able to guarantee that physical distancing can be met in all school settings throughout the entire school day, during school activities, or with transportation,” the document says.

Nonetheless, the guidelines call for some protective measures on campuses, such as reinforcing hand hygiene practices, providing personal protective equipment and training for employees who have a medium-to high-risk of exposure, and routinely cleaning facilities, high touch surface areas, cafeterias, concession stands, health offices, and buses.

The guidelines come as Gov. Kim Reynolds continues her push to reopen Iowa’s economy. On June 1, Iowa reopened its casinos, movie theaters, amusement parks, bowling alleys, pool halls, skating rinks, and arcades. Restaurants and bars have also restored both indoor and outdoor dining. The state lifted the 50 percent capacity restriction on June 10, allowing some businesses, including gyms, to operate at full capacity while practicing social distancing and hygiene and other necessary public health measures.

Reynolds recently signed an order that allows high school sports to proceed, saying sports are good for students’ physical and mental health.

“I’ve highlighted the flip side of what isolation has done to domestic abuse, child abuse, mental illness, suicide, substance abuse,” she said Thursday. “These kids need the opportunity to find some normalcy in their lives and it is a balance. We can’t shut down forever. We can’t pretend like we can’t move forward. That’s not healthy either.”