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A group of parents and students held a protest on a rainy Monday evening in Ankeny.

The group was protesting the mask mandate put in place by the school district.

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At one point, individuals were in the building talking with interim superintendent Al Azinger.

Azinger was unanimously appointed as interim superintendent in September of 2020.

Azinger served as dean of the College of Education for Illinois State University. He has served as superintendent of schools in Lawrence, Kan. and as associate superintendent in Iowa City.

Azinger is a nice enough guy, and he answered some questions from The Iowa Standard during the exchange.

The first question asked was who pays for the building. Azinger noted the taxpayers of Ankeny pay for the building.

He was then asked if taxpayers are allowed to come and express their feelings at board meetings if they’re unable to wear a mask. Azinger said they’re allowed to do so online.

“So you separate citizens into different groups?” we asked.

“They separate themselves, we don’t separate them,” he said of individuals who are unable to wear masks due to medical reasons.

We asked what happens if a child shows up at school without a mask.

Azinger said they’re asked to put a mask on or if they have a medical exemption they wear a shield and make arrangements.

“Their arrangement is to put her in a corner,” said Kimberly Reicks, whose daughter developed an infection from wearing a mask and is now stuck on the opposite side of the classroom as the other students and teacher.

Azinger said a student would not be kicked out of school for not wearing a mask. But he did say they’d be able to choose a virtual option.

Reicks said her daughter was kicked out of science class because she refused to put the mask above her nose.

We then asked why the school board only requires one mask if the CDC said two masks are better.

Azinger said the CDC has only recommended in some instances for people to wear multiple masks, like if someone doesn’t wear an N-95 mask.

We then asked if those who don’t wear N-95 masks have to wear two masks if that is the CDC recommendation and in the best interest of safety and science.

“No,” Azinger said.

He added he’s not sure the CDC suggested multiple masking.

We asked if the staff wore masks in their own house under the assumption they’d want to keep their family within their own house at least as safe and healthy as they want to keep students and staff at school.

Azinger said he lives alone. So we rephrased the question and asked if he were attending a family reunion in someone’s home or a birthday party, would he only attend if everyone in the location wore a mask?

“It depended on the circumstances,” Azinger said. “That’s an individual choice.”

“So it’s an individual choice for you with your own family, but not an individual choice or moms and dads who send their kids to a public school,” we asked.

“Right,” Azinger said.

Azinger noted that people could speak at the meeting, but they must wear a mask.

We asked if people have a constitutional right to speak at a school board meeting — mind you the Ankeny district allows for public comment at the school board meeting.

“No,” he said. “No. No.”

Azinger later said nothing in the Constitution says people have to be allowed to speak at a school board meeting.

We agreed that a school board is a form of local government.

“And the First Amendment gives people the right to…” The Iowa Standard said.

“The First Amendment or the Second Amendment,” Azinger asked.

He asked what The Iowa Standard was searching for.

We talked about the right to peaceably assemble, address government boards with freedom of speech.

“I don’t know that that’s where the freedom of speech comes in,” he said. “That’s the Second Amendment, isn’t it?”

Azinger corrected The Iowa Standard that public comments are not required to be offered at a school board meeting. However, when offered as Ankeny does, they are required to be allowed and not discriminated against based on viewpoint.

School board meetings are open meetings, but there is no obligation to allow people to speak at a meeting, he said. School board meetings are held in the public, but technically they are not public meetings Azinger said.

He noted one way people can make their voices heard is during a school board election.

Author: Jacob Hall

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