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One new member of the Ankeny school board made clear her desire to get rid of the district’s mask mandate after being sworn in on Tuesday.

Sarah Barthole — who won the high-profile endorsement of Republican Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds during the November election — tasked school district leadership with creating a new “mask choice” plan with ongoing legal action in mind.

A state law banning mask mandates in school was blocked in federal court, clearing a path for local school districts to put in place such policies. An appeals court panel is expected to hear the case on Thursday.

“Depending on the hearing on Thursday and the current state of the lawsuit, I would like to see a plan from our administration on moving to a mask choice environment so we could implement and move that forward,” Barthole said. 

Barthole was elected to the suburban Des Moines school board earlier this month along with Joy Burk and Trent Murphy after the three ran loosely as a slate on a platform promoting parental rights, including over mask mandates in schools.

Technically nonpartisan, this year’s school board elections in Iowa and across the nation turned into hyperpartisan combat, fueled in large part by controversies over COVID-19 restrictions and how race is discussed in classrooms. 

Conservative-backed candidates swept in Ankeny but lost in other parts of the state. The November election saw some of the highest turnout in years, and school board races drew head-turning sums in candidate fundraising, particularly in Ankeny.

Going forward, the Ankeny school board will have several major issues to address that are popping up across the metro, including managing enrollment growth, parental opposition to books with LGBTQ themes and addressing systemic inequalities in schools.

Previously:

Barthole’s comments taking aim at the mask mandate followed the newly confirmed board’s elections of leadership, which proved contentious. 

Murphy, who previously served on the board from 2001 to 2011, was elected president by a 4-2 vote. Board members Katie Claeys and Amy Tagliareni voted no. Deshara Bohanna, who nominated Tagliareni for president, did not vote after it was clear Murphy had a majority of votes.

Ryan Weldon was elected vice president on a similar 4-3 vote, foreshadowing the board’s new fault lines. Tagliareni previously served as vice president with outgoing board member Aaron Johnson as president.

Claeys said she was excited to have five women on the board, which she said was the most in its history. However, she said, it was disappointing and upsetting that there were no women in the board’s leadership after Murphy and Weldon, the two men on the board, were appointed as president and vice president.

Tagliareni, who previously served as the board’s vice president, said she had a “heavy heart” after no women were elected into board leadership positions. She contrasted the board’s first action of electing Murphy and Weldon with the previous board’s leadership election, saying that last time the board made sure there were differing points of view reflected when it chose her and Johnson.

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“We chose not to play politics when we picked board leadership,” Tagliareni said, referring to the previous configuration of the school board. “That’s not what we did here tonight. It’s a prime example out of the gate of playing politics.”

She said she was cautiously optimistic going forward and that she hopes all students come first when the board makes its decisions.

“I feel for our most vulnerable,” Tagliareni said. “I’m going to keep coming. I’m going to keep speaking my mind. I’m going to keep fighting for our students, and I hope we can move forward as a board, but right now, I just don’t know what to expect.”

Tagliareni posted a follow-up statement to Facebook on Wednesday.

Murphy said that he didn’t have a choice in his “Y chromosome,” the genetic information that biologically defines the male sex.  

“Unfortunately, that’s how I’m being judged at the beginning, but that means I have to earn the difference, so I’ll do the best I can,” Murphy said.

More: More than 1,300 Ankeny students granted religious exemption to mask requirement

He said that the board will have hard choices to make going forward, but everyone will make the best choices they can with the information they have.

“It might not always be fun and games,” he said. “We might not be laughing and smiling, but we’re going to try.”

Chris Higgins covers the eastern suburbs for the Register. Reach him at chiggins@registermedia.com and follow him on Twitter @chris_higgins_.