As an educator who taught for two decades at rural high schools in Eastern Iowa, Rita Hart has taken a strong stand on what she believes needs to happen in order for students to safely return to their classrooms amid the coronavirus pandemic.
On Thursday morning, Hart, the Democratic candidate for Congress in Iowa’s 2nd District, brought together teachers, school board members and parents to discuss how their individual school districts are approaching the upcoming school year and how state and national leaders have failed to provide the resources necessary to safely resume classes in person.
“We’ve got to do this right,” said Hart, who advocated in an op-ed this week to “safely reopen schools as quickly as possible.”
“It’s really important to get kids back to school,” Hart said during the virtual roundtable. “It’s so important that their education is not abruptly stopped and that we continue to have our kids learn and to be challenged and to be appropriately educated along the process. But, if we put them back in school and then don’t do it right, and then we have to shut it down all again, what have we gained? It’s really important that we get kids back to school but that we do it in a way where we know they can stay in school moving forward.”
Though Hart supports resuming in-person learning, she wants school districts to be able to make decisions based on their individual needs, not a one-size-fits-all mandate from the governor.
Last Friday, Gov. Kim Reynolds held a press conference to announce a new directive that school districts must conduct at least half of their classes in person when the school year resumes. Reynolds’ proclamation came at a time when many school districts across the state already had approved back-to-school plans based on an understanding that districts would be responsible for coming up with an approach that suited their specific needs.
Tara Shochet, a mother of two and parent-teacher association member from Iowa City, said she was “very frustrated” when Reynolds announced the in-person mandate because “the school board worked so very hard and so diligently to make the best choice for the families and staff.” (The Iowa City Community School District had planned to begin its school year entirely online.)
“Now they’re back to the drawing board trying to figure out, how do they do what they think and know is right and match it up with this new mandate,” Shochet said.
Hart acknowledged that while “online learning has great potential, it will never replace in-person instruction for all students.”
Therefore, she said, in order to prioritize in-person learning, “we must take more serious efforts to limit community spread.”
“We should prioritize putting in place mitigation efforts that get positive rates down to levels where spread can be traced and contained,” Hart said. “These might mean prioritizing opening schools over having bars at 100% capacity or other common-sense restrictions. Prioritizing reopening schools means we must be open to other mitigation measures.”
Hart does not call for a mask mandate in schools, but says “teachers and administrators should be empowered to determine when face coverings are appropriate.”
The consensus of the group was that state and national leaders have not been successful in communicating clear, science-based guidance to the people directly impacted by a new school year.
“If we don’t listen to the people that are affected most by the problem, we are not going to effectively come up with a solution to it,” Hart said.
By Elizabeth Meyer
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