The fate of mask mandates, vaccines, and the lawsuit that changed Iowa


Illustration by Elisabeth Poock and Katie Hernandez using Canva

The topics of school mask mandates and vaccines has been widely polarizing as schools across the country open up for in-person learning. On Dec. 7, the Ankeny School Board voted to discontinue the mask mandate for the Ankeny Community School District beginning Dec. 8. “It’s everyone’s choice; they aren’t saying you can’t wear a mask. They’re just saying for the people who don’t want to, then they aren’t forced to, which I’m not big into, but I literally got vaccinated for a reason,” junior Sharice Mamuya said.

Dominic Luna, Social Planner

As of Dec. 8, masks have become optional to staff and students in the Ankeny  Community School District (ACSD). This decision was determined by a 4-3 vote made by the ACSD School Board on Dec. 7. The vote was held to determine if the recently imposed mask mandate would be lifted or stay in place until Dec. 21. 

As of Dec. 12 COVID-19 cases in Iowa are approaching 10,000 new cases. Within the last seven days 9,736, positive tests have been reported, according to the office of Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds. In Polk County, 1,500 positive cases have been reported by the governor’s office.

¨I think there are a lot of people who still need [the mask mandate]… even if we do have a mask mandate, it’s been seen that people still won’t wear them,” senior Grace Gibbins said. “People will get exemptions or they just won’t wear them.”

Gibbins also stated that a mask mandate does not impact every person, but she sees it as a way to protect others.

¨I think it’s someone’s choice, and I don’t think they should be judged for their choices…,” sophomore Madeline Poock said. “Everyone needs to be respectful of other people.”

Superintendent Dr. Erick Pruitt and the school district’s attorney advised keeping the mask mandate through winter break, but Ankeny School Board Directors Trent Murphy, Ryan Weldon, Joy Burk, and Sarah Barthole voted to discontinue the mask mandate beginning Dec. 8. 

“The responsibility of the board is to govern, and my job is to implement it with validity at a high level,” Dr. Pruitt said. “The board voted and now it’s time to move on and make sure staff and students are safe.”

COVID-19 has left its mark on the world since 2019 as people from all corners of the globe have been affected. The virus has since mutated into two variants: Delta and Omicron. The Delta strand is over twice as infectious as the base COVID-19 strand and responsible for a majority of current positive cases, with the Omicron variant likely to be more infectious than the base COVID-19 strand, reports the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). However, according to the CDC, data on whether the Omicron variant will be as infectious or as severe as the Delta variant is yet to be determined. 

On Dec. 15, National Public Radio (NPR) reported that the Omicron variant is spreading faster than any other strain of COVID-19. Within a month, Omicron has made its way to 36 states and 77 countries, NPR reports. The CDC reports that the Omicron variant has been detected in Iowa.

“With the new Omicron variant that impacts hospitalization and also impacts the attendance of students and staff, it will also impact future recommendations made to the board,” Dr. Pruitt said. 

In August 2021, the COVID-19 Pfizer vaccine became the first U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved vaccine, and as a result, more people got vaccinated. With the FDA’s full approval and the approval of the vaccine for ages 5 to 11 on Nov. 2, life has seemingly started to return to what was once ‘normal.’

¨I feel like people who are vaccinated don’t necessarily need to wear their masks because that’s what the whole vaccine is for, and we want to keep moving on for COVID,” sophomore Sydney Howe said.

Governor Kim Reynolds’ office reports that approximately 70 percent of Iowans 18 years+ are vaccinated, while those 73 percent of 12 years + have had at least one dose of the vaccine. 

Junior Hannah Baier states that the vaccine and masks give options. People can choose the best option for themselves, she said. 

 ¨While I may not like wearing a mask, I still see the importance of it, and I see how it’s going to be able to protect the people I care about,” senior Sydney Weaverling said. ¨I don’t want to expose anybody. I work with kids so I really don’t want to expose them, and it can be dangerous for kids, and not all of my kids are vaccinated because they’re so young.”

One in five children, ages five- 11, have received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine since shots were approved at the start of November, reports NBC News. The CDC is now recommending that those 16 and older get a vaccine booster six months after completing the initial COVID-19 vaccine series.

“I believe it’s up to students and families on what they would like to do,” AHS school nurse Rebekah Norgaard said. 

The virus created division on topics such as vaccines and masks. In the ACSD, the debates held over these very issues have come to light with recent debates at school board meetings becoming some of the most polarized in the metro area.

“I hope individuals take it as a personal responsibility to get the vaccine,” AHS Principal Pete Apple said. 

Masks are another topic of discussion, and as of now, Ankeny Schools will not have a mask mandate.

“I don’t believe in mandates,” School Board President Trent Murphy said. 

Murphy, as well as board members Sarah Barthole and Joy Burk were all newly-elected board members in November of 2021. All were elected in an election that saw record turnout as it is the second time in Iowa’s history that city and school elections have occurred on the same day, reports KCCI. 

“I support following the law and the state law says no mask mandates,” Murphy said. 

However, opinions are mixed with the decision to remove the mask mandate. 

“I’m here for the students and I will always make recommendations in the best interest of the staff and students,” Dr. Pruitt said.

Some students have differing opinions about wearing masks.

“I think it should be the people’s choice unless there’s a mandate,” junior Owen Fast said.

Regardless of age group, students are on all sides of the mask issue.

“They are pushing getting vaccinated so badly, but when we do they still make us wear masks,” junior Kennedy Palmer said.

In prior months, a group of parents with children of special needs took legal action against multiple school districts in Iowa including ACSD. The lawsuit claimed that if staff and students were not required to wear a mask, then their children’s health would be endangered. Therefore, not establishing a mask mandate denies equal access to education and violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

¨Wearing a mask isn’t just something we can do to help us, and help not spread the virus, but it really helps to protect others with chronic conditions or with certain conditions,” senior Carson Doss said. “Lifting the mask mandate puts those people at risk and it’s not fair to them that they don’t get those protections because other people don’t care enough and get so affected by such a minor inconvenience as a mask.”

U.S. District Court Judge Robert Pratt upheld the argument of the parents who had taken legal action against the school districts. The decision resulted in a temporary restraining order on the state law banning the ability of school districts to mandate masks. 

“Anyone who wants to wear a mask shouldn’t be discouraged not to, but everyone should have a choice,” Murphy said. 

While it seems the future of mask mandates in Ankeny is unclear, the situation is still being monitored.

“It’s bigger than masks,” Dr. Pruitt said. “I think it’s how school boards, in general, should make decisions. I believe boards should use as much data and statistics as possible before making a decision.”