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Mask mandates from schools, local leaders no longer legal in Iowa

The Republican-controlled legislature passed a bill in the final hours of the 2021 session making mask mandates in schools illegal.

DES MOINES, Iowa — Just after midnight, surrounded by unmasked parents and supporters in her office, Gov. Kim Reynolds (R-Iowa) signed a bill into law giving parents, students, and staff the right to decide to wear face coverings in Iowa schools.

The Republican-controlled legislature voted on the last day of the 2021 session to ban mask mandates in all Iowa schools, as well as in cities and counties. Those leaders can no longer require face coverings.

House Speaker Pat Grassley delivered the bill to the governor shortly after midnight. 

The law goes into effect immediately, and the reaction from dozens of school district leaders was swift.

Thousands of Iowa parents, teachers, and school staff woke up Thursday morning to messages from district leaders, sharing information about the new law. 

Many districts, like Johnston, West Des Moines, and Ankeny, included in the emails the "strong recommendation" for parents to continue sending face coverings with their students. 

Local public health leaders said masks are effective at preventing the spread of coronavirus.

Children 11 and under do not qualify for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine right now, and therefore remain at risk for contracting coronavirus, according to medical experts.

RELATED: CDC accepts US advisers' endorsement of Pfizer COVID shot for kids 12 and up

During the debate in the statehouse hours before the bill passed, Republican lawmakers said they had been fielding complaints from constituents regarding mask policies in schools.

"What this amendment is doing is exactly what government is supposed to do," said Rep. Steven Holt (R-Denison). "We're not restricting people, we're restricting the government from mandating through schools or whatever is what I believe is a deeply personal decision that ought to be made by parents."

Democrats strongly opposed the measure, citing it puts families at risk.

"And if we are so selfish that we can't even put a mask on to protect somebody who might die because she might get this virus," said Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell (D-Ames).

The new law also bans local city and county leaders from requiring masks inside businesses and buildings. 

Go to the We Are Iowa YouTube channel for more legislative updates.

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