First School Defies Iowa’s Order To Resume In-Person Class Immediately

By Isabella Murray

August 3, 2020

The Urbandale School District became one of the first in the state tonight to defy an Iowa Department of Education orders to immediately resume classes in-person amid the coronavirus pandemic.

A motion to extend full remote learning at year-round Rolling Green Elementary School through Aug. 20 was passed unanimously Monday night despite the DOE’s July 31 decision to decline the district’s request to extend continuous online learning for the school for additional weeks.

Urbandale Superintendent Steve Bass emailed families on Monday with news of the DOE’s letter, which ordered Rolling Green to resume in-person this Friday. The motion passed by all seven board members included an amendment which says that learning models for the entire school district will be revisited and voted upon at their Aug 10 meeting.

“We didn’t feel like ethically we could make our recommendation off of our board to go against state law, however I think morally, we’re all feeling that it’s really not right to think that students could be in school on Friday. In a building, with what we know about community spread,” said Crista Carlile, the district’s Director of Teaching & Learning.

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The vote comes as Waukee’s School Board also on Monday released a statement saying they and their district’s superintendent do not agree with state orders to return to 100% online learning.

In a press conference on July 30, Gov. Kim Reynolds said a county’s positivity rate over 14 days must be more than 15%  and absenteeism at 10% or higher before a district can request permission to completely shift to online learning0– the permission is also only granted in two-week increments.

In the statement, the board highlighted aspects of Iowa code which provides that individual school districts have jurisdiction over their own communities.

“We further believe decisions regarding the health and safety of our students, staff, and the general community are best made by those most closely associated with the decision-making. And, repeated sources of expertise indicate that a more reasonable percentage to consider closure is most frequently cited at 5% and generally ranges from 3% to 10%,” read the statement.

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Miriam Van Heukelem, counsel for Urbandale School District with Ahlers & Cooney Law Firm, said at Monday’s zoom meeting that the most likely outcome of potential ramifications if the board decided to remain in remote learning would be the DOE would require the district to make up for lost time.

“Obviously the situation is very fluid and I think that learning as we go what potential authority the [DOE] might have to penalize the district … is all very speculative at this point,” Van Heukelem said.

A number of other board members agreed that the best way for the district to move forward is for Rolling Green to stay home and then in two weeks make a decision for the district as a whole. Given the high positive virus percentage rates in the district, educators said the safety of their schools would be compromised if Rolling Green were to resume in-person in four days.

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Board member Mark Smith did express in the meeting his reservations with students not returning to school in-person, however.

“I do have some resonance with not at least looking at the hybrid with a little bit more seriousness and going to continue remotely. Because it’s not because of fear of … the governor’s orders necessarily. I’m concerned about the kids first and foremost,” Smith said. “I do worry quite a bit about the lack of contact with kids, even if just a couple of days a week, and some of what we’re missing — whether it’s educational, nutritional, abuse or otherwise that concerns me.”

Board member Judy Downs responded by saying issues of food insecurity and education, among others, are of great concern, but the greater problem is continued health threats, especially given the compressed timeline on which the state would require the school to resume.

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“The concerns are so valid about getting eyes on those kids and I don’t think anyone disagrees with that,” Downs said. “We can’t combat any of the other concerns if we have health concerns that get out of control.”

“My hope is that we’re going to have a conversation next Monday and that way when we do start school, teachers and families have multiple weeks — or at least more than the four days we’re talking about now until they can make plans for starting. One of my biggest concerns with going to hybrid right now is it’s so quick. It’s such a quick turn-around.”

After the meeting, Superintendent Bass sent out a letter further explaining the choice to continue online-only learning for at least another two weeks at Rolling Green:


by Isabella Murray
Posted 8/3/20

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