Tensions Ease as District and Community Converse

For the past week, tension has swirled around the Muscatine School Board’s decision to require masks for students in pre-kindergarten through sixth grade and the teachers and staff who work in their buildings. On September 24th, Muscatine Community School District Superintendent Clint Christopher and Matt Miller, a community member who spoke in opposition to the mandate at the September 17th schoolboard special session met to find common ground and help develop better ways for the district and community to work together on contentious issues in the future.

The board held a special session September 17th in response to a federal judge granting a temporary restraining order against House File 847, which prevented school districts from imposing mask mandates. The case, filed in federal court in early September, argues that the State of Iowa’s law violates the American with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act, effectively reverting the decision making to the local level. 

Since the restraining order took effect, districts across the state have debated, and in some cases implemented, mask mandates for some or all of their students. At the meeting, the board voted 6-1 to require masks for students in pre-kindergarten through sixth grade as well as for adults working in those buildings. The board indicated they would revisit the mandate when vaccine eligibility extends to younger children. Currently, only those 12 and older may get COVID-19 vaccines.

Discontent with the board’s decision and the amount of time allotted to public comment, several members of the public voiced their displeasure loudly during the meeting, resulting in police escorting several people out. The next week, a group of more than 60 community members protested the mask mandate September 22, the day it went into effect. The protest remained peaceful.

Miller, recognizing both sides of the discussion could have been handled better, reached out to the district to start a positive conversation about how to ensure community members had their voices heard. Christopher agreed, and they scheduled a face to face meeting for the following morning.

While the two still have their disagreements, they both agree that there is far more they agree on including keeping kids in the classroom and focused on learning.  Another important topic they agree on is families working with building leadership to ensure a safe, effective learning environment for each student.

They also look forward to the community building stronger communication lines in emergent situations so that while a quick decision may need to be made, the community will have ways to be effectively heard as the decision process continues.

“There’s a right way to do this and it’s being a part of the process,” said Miller.

Christopher concurred, saying “Our conversations have been constructive and we can work together to make sure the voices of the community are heard.”