DES MOINES — Governor Kim Reynolds says Iowa school districts given permission to conduct all classes online due to high Covid-19 case counts may do so for 14 days.
Districts will have to again get state officials’ permission for subsequent weeks.
“We need to keep our next generation learning, growing and preparing for a bright future and online learning is an essential component of that, but it can’t make up for the critical role our schools play in the development of social and emotional skills,” Reynolds said late this morning.
The governor said online learning also may exacerbate the achievement gap for underprivileged students who don’t have access to high speed internet or the devices necessary to do their schoolwork.
Reynolds held a news conference today and discussed how the state will address coronavirus outbreaks in schools. “After six months of pandemic, there’s also mounting research that shows children are less likely to transmit and contract Covid-19,” Reynolds said.
School districts may request a temporary waiver to send students home for 14 days and move all instruction online if 10 percent of students are absent and at least 15 percent of county residents screened for the virus test positive.
State Epidemiologist Caitlin Pedati said districts must notify the state if a child, teacher or school staff member tests positive – and public health officials will notify those who were in close contact to quarantine for 14 days. Pedati defined close contact as being within six feet of the infected person for at least 15 minutes.
“Was it in a classroom? Was in it transportation — on a bus? Was it during the lunch period or another setting?” she said, reviewing the potential check-list.
Since the older you are, the more the risk of illness, Pedati said teachers interacting with other teachers and school staff must be on guard.
“A safe return to school is going to depend on our communities’ and families’ readiness and this is going to include a commitment to the protective measures that we know can help slow the spread of this virus,” she says, “so that means the consistent use of cloth face coverings when in public, it means socially distancing by six feet whenever possible.”
The governor is not mandating face coverings in schools, but she said the state will help schools acquire masks, if necessary.
“The Department of Education will be sending out a survey to school districts across the state to find out what their need for PPE is and the state will supply an initial 30-day supply of PPE,” Reynolds said, “and then we’ll continue to work with our AEAs, our school districts and whoever that may be on procurement moving forward.”
The governor said she’s fully aware people, especially teachers, are unsettled by the uncertainty of restarting school in the midst of the pandemic.
“Our teachers are essential to ensuring that our schoolkids return to learn rather than mark time and lose ground,” Reynolds said. “And I know that together we can do this safely and responsibly.”
The president of the Iowa State Education Association, the state teachers’ union, said the governor’s back-to-school guidelines show she has “an outlandish notion” of when it’s safe to reopen schools.
State education officials say the forms for districts seeking permission to shift to 14-days of online-only classes will be available online next week. A spokeswoman for the agency says schools will be notified as quickly as possible if their waiver is granted.
Iowa’s mandatory school start date law has been suspended and schools may begin the fall semester earlier in August.