Faculty petition for mask authority in classroom

Students work in Building 5 at the DMACC Ankeny Campus. Photo by Alyssa Monroe.

A petition has been circulating among faculty members requesting the authority to mandate masks in the classroom.

The petition states: “DMACC should mandate that students wear masks during classroom time per the discretion of the instructor.”

Ankeny Speech Professor Julie Simanski created the petition, which has 100 signatures. “It’s not for every classroom, but if the instructor feels like they want that protection, I feel they should be able to get it,” Simanski said. 

For Simanski, creating the petition came from a place of concern for safety not only for her students and other faculty, but for her daughter as well.

“She has a neuromuscular condition,” Simanski said. “She has been vaccinated, but I’m concerned that if she were to even get a mild case of COVID that she would not do well with it.”

During a Labor/Management meeting earlier this month, faculty informed DMACC President Rob Denson of the petition, according to Simanski.

“Our union informed Denson last week at our Labor/Management meeting that the petition had over 100 signatures of faculty at DMACC,” Simanski said via email. “He wanted to see the signatures, but the team wasn’t comfortable sharing the individual names. The petition has faculty names from all of the DMACC campuses. It is not just an Ankeny initiative.”

Denson responded via email: “A petition has not been presented to the College administration. We do not know who has signed the [petition] and/or their employment status; and, we have not been asked officially for anything that we have denied. There has been no official discussion of this.”

Carrie Morris, Spanish professor at Urban campus and current president of DMACC’s Higher Education Association, said the union asked the administration about the ability to require masks but were denied. 

“We asked at our October 13th Labor/Management meeting if faculty could request masks in their classes via a scheduling note for spring. That way students could choose sections with mask requests as they wished.”

Morris said Denson replied via email on October 17, stating it could not be done.

Shelli Allen, Vice President of Enrollment Services, said via email, “I share the concerns expressed about the continued spread of the COVID-19 virus, and I encourage those who are able to get vaccinated.”

As of October 27, the daily average COVID cases in Polk County sits at 142, up from an average of 134 at the end of August. The seven-day positivity rate is at 8.3%, an improvement from 10.9% at the end of August. This still falls within the CDC’s definition of a “high” transmission rate.

Psychology Professor Katherine Dowdell at the Ankeny Campus shared similar thoughts to Simanski about the implementation of mask-wearing.

I think the petition is an important way to let faculty document their support for implementing CDC guidelines,” Dowdell said via email.

Simanski elaborated further: “I know that there are some instructors who have young children who are not old enough to get the vaccine yet,” Simanski said. “We don’t know what people’s living situations are. It’s common courtesy [and] common kindness that you be respectful of other people, especially when this [Delta] variant is as dangerous as it is.”

The discussion surrounding mask-wearing on campus has been continuing since classes have returned to face-to-face. Signs that advise people to wear masks are posted by entrances and in the halls of buildings, but many choose to go maskless. 

Whether students heed those recommendations seem to come down to personal decision, but Simanski said she feels as if mask-wearing has been turned into a matter that eclipses public safety. 

“It has come down to being a political issue,” Simanski said. “I think we need to get rid of the politics and see this as a health-safety issue.”

HEA President Morris expressed her view on masks on campus via email:

“Personally, I would not feel the need to have my class sections as mask-designated, but I do wear a mask when in public spaces of campus buildings,” Morris said. “If I am working alone in my office or another space while unmasked and another person comes in wearing a mask, I put on a mask. I see it as a courtesy that puts others at ease.”

What students say:

Matthew Wells, Liberal Arts

If they requested it, I’d wear [a mask]. I don’t wear one now but it’s just, that’s just me, but I would be fine if they requested me to. 

Kara Gorham, Liberal Arts:

I’m not going to wear a mask unless it is required by the law to wear a mask. And that’s just my personal convictions on that because I don’t think that Coronavirus is something that we should be obsessing over. 

Devin Shook, Nursing:

My preference is that it’s their choice, so if they feel like they need to mask or want a mask, they should, they should wear it. But people who don’t want to wear it, and got the shot, I feel like they should feel free not to wear it if they don’t want to.

Heather Cernek:

Personally, I don’t wear a mask on campus, I would if my professor recommended it or other people didn’t feel safe, but personally, I’m not too worried. I’m not scared of the virus. 

Parker (No last name given), Liberal Arts:

Personally, I do believe wearing a mask is quite important because, due to the pandemic, you have [to put] protection first.

If you didn’t wear a mask at all and then you [test] positive for COVID, then you can’t help if you didn’t protect yourself in the first place. It’s important for me.

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