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Some central Iowa schools implement medical, religious exemptions for mask mandates

Several central Iowa school districts have adopted mask mandates. With them comes the option for parents to fill out exemption forms.

DES MOINES, Iowa — As many central Iowa parents send their students back to class this week with face coverings thanks to newly-established mask mandates, some families are opting out of the policy.

Families who claim either a medical or religious exemption to their child wearing a mask must fill out a form provided by the school district.

In Ames, it's an online form, asking for the student's name, grade, and other personal information. At the bottom of the form, the individual must check disability/medical or religion as the reason for the exemption.

"Student mask requirement exemptions related to disability and religious will be considered on an individual basis," said Eric Smidt, spokesperson for the Ames Community School District.

The district works with each family individually to meet the student's needs.

In the Johnston Community School District, parents or guardians only have to fill out a one-page form and give it to the district.

A similar form is provided by the Ankeny Community School District.

All three school districts do not ask for documentation for a religious exemption. 

Medical documentation is not required, but district personnel may request it.

Local 5 has asked the Iowa Department of Education if experts with the state provided guidance for these face-covering exemption forms. 

The Urbandale Community School District told Local 5 it has received 197 student exemption forms this school year. 194 were approved. 

Local 5 has also requested data for several school districts, including West Des Moines, Des Moines and Ames in regards to the number of students exempt from the mask mandate. 

Our team is still waiting to hear back.

Medical and religious exemption forms are not new to Iowa parents. Many already fill them out to exempt their child from vaccinations. 

Polk County Health Department keeps track of medical and religious exemptions for vaccinations each year. 

Below is a chart displaying the rate of medical exemptions in Polk County public school districts from 2014 to 2020.

Credit: Polk County Health Department

In the graph below, the rate of religious exemptions approved by Polk County school districts went up over the past five years, according to data from the health department.

Credit: Polk County Health Department

You can see each district's school immunization report here.

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