The debate over school reopening orders continued this morning as Gov. Kim Reynolds indicated her previously stated benchmark that districts can use to request permission for online learning may be overruled by other situations.
The governor at her bi-weekly COVID press conference today said community context would be another factor taken into consideration when schools apply to move online — her administration believes state law requires at least 50% of classes to be held in person this fall. As stated on July 30, the state would consider two-week online learning increments to a district that requests it if their county’s positivity rate is more than 15% and absenteeism at 10% or higher, both for at least two weeks.
“Community context will be so important for schools to consider,” Reynolds said in the Maytag Auditorium of Iowa PBS, specifically citing a “contained” prison virus outbreak in Fort Dodge as a reason why local schools there should still prepare for in-person classes.
As of Thursday morning, there were 418 new COVID-19 cases in Iowa over the past 24 hours, moving the state total up to 47,137.
The state this week added an update to their Department of Public Health coronavirus website—it now includes a county-by-county 14-day average positivity rate for school districts, which comes after controversy surrounding several urban and suburban Iowa school districts who defied state law requirements for in-person classes this fall, opting instead for online learning.
Des Moines, Urbandale and Waukee School Districts, among some others, have voted or released statements to extend full remote learning without adhering to the Governor’s 14-day rolling positivity rate metrics.
Right now, there are about 7 counties on the state’s site that meet or exceed the 15%, 14-day positivity rate, but Reynolds at her press conference today said that number “doesn’t always give a complete picture for school districts.”
The governor used Webster County as an example—they have a 22% 14-day positivity rate, driven in large part by an outbreak at the Fort Dodge state prison. She said the county’s outbreak, therefore, is a “completely contained environment.”
“At the Fort Dodge prison, they’ve had 386 positive tests, 354 inmates, 32 staff out of a total of 768 positive tests in Webster county. And out of the 768, 424 have recovered in a population of 35,000,” she said, not elaborating on how staff, who would live in the nearby community, makes the outbreak “contained.” “So that’s why it’s going to be extremely important, as I said earlier, for schools to work closely with the department of public education and department of public health officials to get a good sense of the level of community spread impacting schools and where it’s coming from.”
Webster County should make “every effort to get those kids back to school,” she said.
When asked if the 14-day rolling positivity rate guidelines are subjective criteria, Reynolds acknowledged that community context will be considered a component to whether a school district can move from a classroom to temporarily online.
“That is a component. Absenteeism is a component of that too, much like the flu season,” she said. “The guidelines say, when they hit this metric and they have 10% absenteeism on individuals that are in the school building, then that would trigger the opportunity for a temporary waiver.”
Iowa medical director Dr. Caitlin Pedati followed up on the question, saying, “I want to emphasize that this is just a starting point.”
During Tuesday’s press conference, Pedati had noted how they took into consideration how small increases in cases could impact a threshold in smaller counties, specifically pointing to nursing home outbreaks.
“Looking at some of our communities that have smaller populations and trying to keep in mind how those percentages translate into numbers when there are smaller groups of people, smaller communities, as well as other things going on in a community. For example, other people who might be affected in other settings, like longterm cares or other congregate settings,” she said.
Thursday’s press conference also included testimony from Eldon Iowa’s Cardinal Community school district’s superintendent, an educator and a teacher, along with Reynolds again expressing pride over the Iowa COVID-19 positivity rates — the percentage of positive cases to tests conducted.
by Isabella Murray
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