Earlier this month, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Pratt issued a temporary restraining order stopping the enforcement of the mask mandate ban that the Iowa Legislature passed and Gov. Kim Reynolds signed into law. This ruling sent Iowa parents into a quandary, wondering what to do next, finding their children are again being used in a cruel game of tug-of-war.
Iowa school districts have been reconsidering what they will, or won’t, require of their students. Parents on both sides of the mask issue are using different data sources and arguments to support their point of view at school board meetings and organized demonstrations. These battles playing out in full view of everyone are about more than just masks and COVID-19. They really all come down to asking: Who is in control of our children?
That court ruling was not the only recent event that highlighted parental concerns and frustration with public education. Republican Michael Bousselot won a special election recently for Iowa House District 37. In winning the privilege to represent Ankeny at the Statehouse, Bousselot made parental choice in education a top issue; he argued that parents should decide whether their child wears a mask and not a school’s administration.
Unfortunately, masks aren’t the only issue that has become contentious in our schools since 2020. Our country’s history has become a flash point. When dueling social studies curriculums are considered, supporters of opposing sides have resorted to name-calling and implications of what one’s personal value system must be, based on how they believe American history should be taught to our children.
As this new school year got under way, stories began to emerge from schools across the state about conflicts over gender and pronouns. Iowans have deeply held beliefs on these issues and are now attending school board meetings wearing T-shirts and waving signs that proclaim their competing points of view. The problem here is that this is not a football game where we clearly have a winner at the end of a game. This is about our children’s lives, and they are the ones caught in the middle.
State legislators are writing laws that may help one side, while school boards are decreeing a different set of standards. This brings us back to the game of tug-of-war.
Is there an understanding, cooperative school board somewhere that can consider all the points of view on these issues and then navigate a path that satisfies everyone? Can our culture arrive at a one-size-fits-all solution on the issues of masks, history, and gender?
As we’ve watched the dialogue and discussions in protests around the country, it appears the answer is probably not. So, how can we move forward?
It’s time to give parents a real choice about their children’s education so they aren’t forced to send their kids to a school with leadership they vehemently disagree with. It’s time to adopt Education Savings Account legislation that allows all parents, not just the ones with the financial means to do so, to educate their children in a way that aligns with their values and beliefs.
Without real choice in education, this game of tug-of-war will continue to pull our children apart, leaving them to wonder whether they should listen to their parents or their teachers. A grassroots movement across Iowa is taking place that has parents joining together to fight for an educational option beyond the public school down the street.
If policymakers want to reform education and let mothers and fathers decide what is best for their students, then it is time to break the public-school monopoly and allow greater parental choice in education.
Walt Rogers is deputy director of Tax Education Foundation of Iowa and is a former state representative from Cedar Falls who chaired the House Education Committee.