While downplaying Iowa’s rising COVID-19 numbers and rebuking school districts who oppose in-person school reopening orders, Gov. Kim Reynolds today accused the media of implementing “scare tactics” in their coverage of how the virus is playing out across the state.
The governor resumed her bi-weekly press conferences Tuesday morning, pushing back on the actions and press coverage of two Iowa school districts on Monday night which countered her previous orders for children to return to school in-person classes amid worsening COVID-19 rates.
“This is part of the problem. The scare tactics that’s being laid out by the media. I’ve walked through the numbers,” Reynolds said after an Iowa reporter mentioned he’d listened to several school board meetings where teachers and families have expressed fear that a teacher might die or a child may become sick with the virus.
“It would be naïve for us to think at no point we’re not going to see positive cases in school districts,” she added, noting her concern for her own grandchildren returning to school. “Do you think as the governor I appreciate standing up here and reporting those out? We’re doing everything we can.”
Reynolds went on to plead that members of the media contextualize the still-increasing COVID-19 infection rates across Iowa. As of Tuesday morning, there were 160 new COVID-19 cases in Iowa over the past 24 hours, moving the state total up to 45,802. Earlier in the press conference, Reynolds indicated that these numbers were big improvements from peak counts in late April.
“I just want the media to give the numbers in context. Help us. Because I think you’re a part of the solution. We all have to be a part of the solution. You can hold me accountable. You can ask me anything, that’s fine, it goes with being the Governor,” she said, noting that fear has been sown into Iowans because of reporting on the numbers.
“When Iowans are out there, and there is so much anxiety about the uncertainty and what the expectations are, we need to help them walk through that. Not escalate that anxiety,” she said. “What we’re doing to these kids is unconscionable. The fear that we’re instilling in them. I think we all have a responsibility to do better. Including me.”
In a press conference on July 30, Gov. Reynolds clarified her earlier calls for in-person back to school requirements. The governor said that 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 learning – the permission is also only granted in two-week increments.
The governor maintained her position on Tuesday, responding directly to the Urbandale School District’s Monday opposition of back-to-school guidelines from the state — their board voted to extend full remote learning at their all-year elementary schools despite a Department of Education decision to decline their earlier request to lengthen online instruction.
“I want to be very clear. Schools that chose not to return to school for at least 50 percent in-person instruction are not defying me, they’re defying the law. The legislature unanimously passed a bill requiring in-person learning as the primary form of education. That’s what we are working to implement,” she said. “If schools move to primarily remote learning without approval according, again, to the law, those days do not count toward instructional time.”
DOE told the district in a letter that year-round Rolling Green Elementary school would need to resume in-person this Friday. Urbandale’s school board voted unanimously to defy this order and revisit learning models for the upcoming school year at their Aug. 10 meeting.
Reynolds said the district’s initial request to continue online learning was not approved because of the current public health conditions “simply don’t warrant it at this time.”
Waukee’s School Board also resisted orders from the state on Monday in a statement that highlighted parts of Iowa code allowing for local jurisdiction within individual school districts.
“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.
Reynolds continued to note that because positivity rates were lower in Iowa, though cases continue to increase, uphold her position to get children back to school in-person. Increased testing has helped to lower positivity rates due, even as total numbers of cases and hospitalizations creep back up.
“I have the responsibility to not react to partially informed headlines or news stories, but to make decisions based on data and the department of public health experts and the epidemiologist team,” she said. “Our lower positivity rate and lower hospitalization numbers are a sign that we’re doing the right thing.”
Reynolds’ press conferences will continue each Tuesday and Thursday at 11 a.m. in the Maytag Auditorium of Iowa PBS, according to the governor’s office.
by Isabella Murray
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