DES MOINES, Iowa — Sending kids back to school is always a stressful time for parents, and COVID has not made it any easier. On Wednesday, parents and community members gathered at the Iowa State Capitol for what they called "The Safe at School Sit-In."
The event's focus was on pushing back against a bill signed by Gov. Kim Reynolds in May which made it illegal for schools to institute mask mandates in the classroom.
Rising case numbers have parents worried about the health of their kids, many of whom are too young to be vaccinated. The event was first organized on Facebook by local parents.
"We want our kids to be safely in school, we want to be able to go back to work, we want to be able to have our kids learn safely and develop relationships in school," said Tanya Keith, a mother of multiple school-aged children. "But we want them to do it safely in a pandemic."
Dr. Megan Srinivas is an infectious disease expert who spoke at the event, comparing the classroom environment to a game of roulette, where the health of students and community members is at risk.
"Any one of them could get sick, pass away, could have permanent consequences. And we need to prevent that," Srinivas said.
While schools may not be able to mandate masks, there are ways that parents can help keep their kids safe to the best of their ability.
"We know they can get sick from this disease, that they can die from this disease, have permanent ramifications," Srinivas added. "But we can prevent all of that if we use universal masking and get everybody vaccinated we is eligible to do so."
Sit-in participants have plans to continue pushing back against the ban on mask mandates.
"We're organizing to fundraise," Keith said. "There are schools in Iowa that want to fight this ban in court. We don't want that to be an economic burden on them. So we're fundraising to raise money for legal aid funds for schools and parents who want to take this to court."
Reynolds issued the following statement Wednesday:
“Parental control is local control and parents have the option to send their kids to school with a mask or not. As I have throughout this pandemic, I trust Iowans to do the right thing and make the decisions about what’s best for themselves and their family.”
State Sen. Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, said “Senate Republicans have consistently implemented policies to give parents more control over their children’s education, including whether or not their child wears a mask."
"I do not anticipate any changes to the law empowering parents in this area," he concluded.
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