Reynolds stands firm on in-person learning

Travis Fischer

Governor Kim Reynolds is holding her ground against school districts resisting a return to in-person instruction as the school year edges closer.

At the end of last month, the Iowa Department of Education released guidelines for school districts as part of the state’s “Return To Learn” plan, insisting that school districts prepare to open back up for in-person learning this fall.

It is expected by the state that schools commit to having at least 50% of their core instruction time in the classroom. Only when a school district’s positivity rate exceeds 15% over a two week period and a school district sees 10% absenteeism among students can a district apply for a temporary authorization to switch to remote learning.

Though even meeting those conditions is not a guarantee that the temporary authorization will be granted. Webster County, for example, has among the highest positive case count in the state but because that case count includes inmates at the Fort Dodge Correctional Facility the state will take that into consideration in the event that a school district applies for permission to move ahead with remote learning.

While most Iowa school districts have already prepared for a hybrid-model of in-person and online instruction for the upcoming school year, a few of the larger school districts in Iowa have bucked against the Governor’s position. The Urbandale school board unanimously voted in favor of continuing an online-only plan after the Department of Education denied their request to do so and the Waukee Community School District has taken the position that the Iowa Code provides school districts with exclusive jurisdiction in school matters within their territory.

“I want to be very clear. Schools that choose not to return to school for at least 50% in-person instruction are not defying me, they’re defying the law,” said Reynolds during her bi-weekly update. “If they fail to comply or follow the law, then the days when they’re not in compliance will not count towards instructional time, so it will have to be made up. The school administrators may also be subject to licensure discipline as well, and that’s within the law.”

The law Reynolds is referring to is Senate File 2310, which was passed unanimously by the Iowa Legislature in June. It largely centers around the development of online learning options in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, setting expectations of what schools have to offer in terms of remote-learning, stating that “Unless explicitly authorized in a proclamation of a public health disaster emergency issued by the governor … a brick-and-mortar school district or accredited nonpublic school shall not take action to provide instruction primarily through remote-learning opportunities.” The Department of Education has interpreted that “primarily” means a school must conduct at least 50% of their instructional time in-person.

SF2310 does give the the Governor the authority under the public health emergency declaration to provide districts with the latitude to determine whether or not they should conduct in-person learning or go exclusively online, however Reynolds has chosen not to do so, instead leaving the decision up to individual parents.

“We provided flexibility to the parents,” said Reynolds. “If they have a child with an underlying condition or if they feel it’s in the child’s best interest then the parent will make that decision.”

Governor Reynolds also discussed mask policies, particularly about local governments that have taken it upon themselves to issue mandatory mask ordinances. Reynolds reiterated that while she does support Iowans wearing masks, she does not agree with local mandates nor does she intend to implement a state-wide mandate.

“We encourage Iowans to wear a mask when they’re interacting with others and they’re unable to social distance. Within that, businesses have the opportunity to choose to require masks in their establishments, schools can require masks for their students and teachers, and governments can choose to require masks in their buildings,” said Reynolds. “I just don’t believe that a one-size-fits-all government mandate is the right direction.”

As of Sunday, August 9 there have been 48,821 cases of COVID-19 confirmed in the state, increasing the 45,492 total from the week prior by 3,329 cases. The number of new cases last week is nearly identical to the number of new cases from the week before.

In total, approximately 1,953 elderly adults (age 80+); 5,859 older adults (61-80); 14,158 middle aged adults (41-60); 23,434 young adults (18-40); and 3,417 children have tested positive for the disease. These estimates are based on a percentage-based breakdown of the state’s reported positive cases. As the total number of cases increase, the less accurate these estimates will become. A single percentage point difference can change an estimate by more than 480 cases.

With 37,105 cases considered recovered, that leaves roughly 10,700 Iowans currently known to be fighting the disease.

In testing, Iowa reached a milestone last week, crossing the 500,000th Iowan tested. 521,837 Iowans have been tested since the start of the pandemic, with an average of 5,080 tests per day over the last week.

Current testing shows that roughly 64% of positive cases result in symptoms while 13% have been asymptomatic, with the remaining cases pending or unknown.

In addition, 42,052 Iowans have undergone serology testing for coronavirus antibodies, which would indicate that they have had the virus. Of that number, 2,840, about 7%, have tested positive for antibodies.

The number of severe cases of COVID-19 has fallen with 221 patients currently hospitalized and 57 patients in an ICU, a significant decrease from the previous week.

At the same time, deaths are on the rise, with 55 deaths reported last week bringing the state total to 931. Approximately 438 elderly, 381 older adults, 93 middle aged adults, and 19 young adults have died from the virus since the pandemic began.

Of the new deaths, 26 have been attributed to long term care facilities, bringing the total deaths in long term care facilities to 498. In Iowa the number of facilities reporting outbreaks has increased by four, with 26 now reporting outbreaks and 825 individuals currently testing positive.



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