As Iowa on Friday set a new single-day high for COVID-19 cases, Gov. Kim Reynolds said the state’s schools must prioritize in-person learning this fall, overriding a number of school district’s recent decisions to implement online or hybrid learning options amid a worsening pandemic.
The Iowa Department of Public Health reported 879 cases as Reynolds this morning held a press conference in Van Meter saying that Iowa law requires the majority of learning, especially in core subjects, be in-person unless she authorizes remote learning in certain cases. Reynolds said that she will later today sign a proclamation “that sets forth when [online instruction] will be permissible.”
The proclamation was just released here.
The announcement negates most return-to-learn plans Iowa school districts created under the guidelines of the Iowa Department of Education and Public Health—districts from Iowa City to Des Moines had this past week voted to primarily institute remote learning in its entirety or on days alternated with in-person learning.
“Iowa law says that in-person instruction is the presumed method of instruction for the school year. Schools must prioritize in-person learning for the core academic subjects, including science, math, reading and social studies,” Reynolds said at the press conference.
“And the Legislature has made it clear that most schools cannot provide more than half of any subject to a student through remote unless I authorize remote learning in a proclamation … Later today I’m signing a proclamation that sets forth when that will be permissible.”
It was not clear, however, that the bill the Legislature passed required half of class be in-person.
Reynolds said the proclamation, other than directing state agencies, school districts and local governments on welcoming back to school students and teachers in-person, provides clarity for when a school may move to primarily remote learning “so there’s no confusion.”
To learn online, school districts would have to go through a waiver.
“It permits remote learning when parents select remote learning as the best option for their family. The Department of Education, in consultation with the Iowa Department of Public Health, approves a temporary move to online learning for an entire building or district in response to public health conditions,” she said.
The proclamation also addresses concerns about the teacher workforce, Reynolds said, including removing limits on how often or long substitute teachers can teach and expanding the substitute pool.
Many of the state’s school districts have recently voted on planning to start school this fall partly or completely online—decisions that varied by district after national and state officials offered little guidance ahead of the school year.
“We all like local control,” said Derek Durflinger, the superintendent of Van Meter said at the press conference, noting that his school district is different than others across the state.
When asked if her plan prevents local control, Reynolds said the return to learn plans school districts crafted under the guidance of the Department of Education and Public Health were made to be preliminary.
“I think they put forth preliminary plans, I think they were still working on some of the details. And one thing that was made very clear is that they would like some more clarification, especially with the legislation that was passed and signed into law,” she said.
“It was made clear in the law that if we were going to utilize online learning as one of the return-to-learn plans, that the governor needed to put parameters in place, and that’s in our proclamation. We did that today, and it’s fair, it’s flexible.”
by Isabella Murray
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