As communities around the country grapple with the no-win challenge of how best to start the upcoming school year, a group of Iowa educators have kicked off a grassroots campaign to push Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds to institute a statewide mask mandate before students and teachers return to the classroom. The plan? To morbidly troll Reynolds by publicly sharing their own self-penned obituaries in the hopes that she will reconsider her reopening push.
"I think what we were trying to do is humanize us in her mind, make her see us as people," Kerry Finley, a 7th grade teacher from Iowa City told Good Morning America this week.
The obituary initiative began with Sioux City teacher Jeremy Dumkreiger, cofounder of Iowa Educators for a Safe Return to School, a private Facebook group with more than 20,000 members created in late June.
"Our group is asking teachers across Iowa to prepare their obituaries in advance of the 2020-2021 school year to demand Gov. Reynolds declare a statewide school mask mandate," Dumkreiger explained in an essay for the progressive news site Iowa Starting Line.
"Wearing masks and/or face shields is the best way for schools to decrease the chance of COVID-19 from spreading from students to teachers and vice versa," he continued. "CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield has said that if Americans 'wore a mask for the next six weeks, we could drive this virus into the ground.' If we do not require this mask mandate, we risk the chance of driving our teachers and schools into the ground, literally."
In his own mock-obituary, which he also shared in the essay, Dumkreiger obliquely references the theoretical circumstances of his potential coronavirus-related death, writing:
Jeremy’s proudest moment took place in 2018 when his family witnessed him be inducted into the Iowa Democratic Party Hall of Fame. With his family looking on, Jeremy told the crowd during the induction to “Always work like your life depends on it — because while yours may not, someone’s life does. Someday yours may depend on it too.” Turns out, Jeremy’s life depended on it.
Finley's mock-obituary, shared with Good Morning America, takes things a step further, breaking the fourth wall entirely.
"You know what? I'm not dying for this - I won't even pretend to," she wrote. "I will fight with every fiber of my being as a mother, a teacher, a lawyer, an Iowan, and an American to make our current leadership understand and act with reason."
Reynolds introduced a series of school reopening guidelines Thursday, including the recommendation that in the event a student or faculty member has a confirmed infection, they be sent home and quarantined along with their close friends and associates. The school itself, however, would be allowed to remain open.
Elsewhere in the country, teachers in coronavirus hotspots have begun preparing for the upcoming school year by preparing wills and putting their estates in order. And while Iowa educators interested in sharing their mock-obituaries are encouraged to do so publicly on social media, Dumkreiger also suggested they share them directly with Reynolds's office.
"Gov. Reynolds will get the message," he stated.