Proposed legislation in the Iowa House would prohibit colleges and universities in the state from mandating social distancing and mask requirements for students and faculty when off-campus.
It’s a bill that received plenty of pushback from interested parties.
Frank Chiodo, who represents the Iowa Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, said there are a lot of issues with the bill, but two things are most concerning.
Chiodo said that when someone goes to an institution – any institution – they sign a code of conduct.
“That means what you do off-campus – if you make a bad decision off campus – it affects you on campus,” he said. “If you don’t want to apply by that standard, then don’t go to that university. Your behavior and your decisions do have repercussions, especially in this situation.”
The universities and colleges are trying everything possible to avoid going all virtual.
“If we did something like this and the pandemic continued, this would basically force us to go all virtual because the exposure and the risk,” Chiodo said. “You can only control what you control, but this amplifies those exposures and those risks on our campus to our administration, to other students, to our parents and grandparents when they go back home.”
So far the institutions are trying their best to follow the guidelines put in place by Gov. Kim Reynolds.
“if students want to make decisions that don’t follow those COVID guidelines, there’s going to be reprucssions either way,” Chiodo said. “Quite frankly by law enforcement because if you violate an executive order, that’s a problem.”
Chiodo said the universities are doing their best to manage an unmanageable situation.
“It’s a historic situation,” he said. “Quite frankly, the easiest and simplest thing that we can do is encourage our students, our faculty to be safe and wear a mask. It’s a lot more economical than having to shut down the university.
“I know it’s not a perfect solution, but when you’re dealing with this, if you find a perfect solution, please let us know because this has been an extremely stressful situation.”
Mary Braun with the Iowa Board of Regents said the organization is registered undecided on the bill, but has some concerns when it comes to students and faculty that are traveling off-campus for various activities.
“It just needs to be clear in the bill that the university can continue to require all employees to follow the protocols for face coverings and social distancing when traveling for university business,” she said.
Democrat State Rep. Christina Bohannan called the bill “a really bad idea.”
“I think it’s going to be incredibly problematic for our colleges and universities,” she said. “As someone who teaches at a public university here in Iowa, I can tell you that the risk of COVID is not from a classroom. That’s the least of it.”
Bohannan said the approach taken at the University of Iowa has been successful. She said going down the path of the bill will force the school to shut down.
“To say that there’s nothing that the university can do to have people take these precautions is crazy,” Bohannan said. “It’s just crazy.”
Republican State Rep. Joe Mitchell opened by saying he doesn’t think the universities or colleges have done a “horrific job” or “tried to impede on students’ rights,” – in the views of the college administrators.
“But I have gotten example after example from students at Drake University, the University of Iowa, Iowa State University,” he said. “Things that myself and certain colleagues of mine don’t think are acceptable.”
Mitchell said students have had pictures taken off-campus at certain rallies or gatherings and been reported to the university.
“People feel like they’re getting picked on, being singled out for not wearing masks and not properly socially distancing,” he said. “
College administrators are telling Mitchell that someone not wearing a mask or not socially distancing properly off-campus is just as bad as students going drinking underage off-campus or using drugs.
“To myself and certain colleagues of mine, we don’t think that’s true, we don’t think that’s acceptable,” he said.
Mitchell asked where the authority stops.
Drake students are undergoing random mandatory testing. If students do not get tested after being randomly selected, they may have their ID revoked.
They are “injustices to the kids,” Mitchell said.
Ultimately, Mitchell said the colleges and universities are overstepping their authority. He signed the bill through to the full committee.