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Gov. Reynolds Extends Iowa School Closures Through April 30

The governor's original recommendation kept schools closed through April 13, but state officials said this week the expected peak of new coronavirus cases is still two to three weeks away.

Gov. Kim Reynolds Thursday ordered Iowa K-12 schools to remain closed through April 30 and asked school districts to submit plans for offering instruction during part of that time.

She originally recommended on March 15 that schools close until April 13 to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But state officials this week said Iowa could reach the peak of new coronavirus cases in two to three weeks.

Reynolds is not asking schools to stay closed through the end of the year, as some other states have done.

“As we have with all COVID-19 mitigation decisions, we will continue to monitor the situation, assess the measures that we have in place, and use data to make the right decisions at the right time,” Reynolds said. “That said, it is also important that Iowa schools do their part to provide continuous learning opportunities for their students.”

Under Reynolds’ proclamation, school districts are asked to submit a “continuous learning” plan to the Iowa Department of Education by April 10.

Schools can choose to offer voluntary learning opportunities or required classwork, in which schools would still take attendance, grade work, and give credits. Districts can give a mix of voluntary and required classes for different grade levels, and they have the option of starting with voluntary instruction and switching over to requiring participation.

Districts can do this through online learning, paper packets sent to students, or a mix of both.

“We will be surveying our schools to identify and address barriers they face in implementing continuous learning programs,” said Iowa Department of Education Director Ann Lebo. “We know that professional learning opportunities along with uniform, consistent Wi-Fi access for students top that list. We are working with Gov. Reynolds, Iowa’s AEAs and other partners to coordinate efforts so resources are in place.”

School districts that comply will not have to make up days of instruction that were canceled because of COVID-19. But districts that don’t get a learning plan approved by the state education department will have to make up any days of instruction missed from April 13 to April 30.

Even with the governor’s order in place through April 30, the superintendent of the state’s largest school district said he is preparing to keep it closed through the end of the school year.

Des Moines Public Schools Superintendent Thomas Ahart told school board members it would be unrealistic to restart classes in early May when the COVID-19 outbreak in Iowa is projected to be near its peak.

“We’re doing a lot more harm by limping along and making decisions on a two-week by two-week basis when we have very good evidence that we could make some longer term decisions that are in the community’s best interest,” Ahart said.

He added the district is considering a switch to all online learning, starting with high school seniors. Ahart said providing internet access for all students is one of the biggest challenges.

Restaurant dining rooms, bars, gyms, pools, salons, barbershops, clothing stores, furniture stores, theaters, and casinos are closed through April 30.

Businesses, non-essential surgeries, lawmaking suspended through April 30

The proclamation Reynolds signed Thursday also extends closures of several kinds of businesses through April 30.

They include restaurant dining rooms, bars, gyms, pools, salons, barbershops, clothing stores, furniture stores, theaters, casinos and other businesses.

The order prohibits gatherings of more than 10 people, except for livestock auctions for food animals.

It also continues the suspension of non-essential surgeries and medical and dental procedures through April 30.

After Reynolds announced this, Republican leaders of the Iowa Legislature said the legislative session will also remain on hold through at least April 30. Lawmakers originally intended to return to the Iowa Capitol on April 15.

Clay Masters is Iowa Public Radio’s Morning Edition host and lead political reporter.