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Reynolds: Schools That Choose Virtual Learning Without Permission Are Breaking The Law

Gov. Kim Reynolds said school districts must make up time spent in all-virtual learning if it is done without permission from the Iowa Department of Education.
Grant Gerlock
Gov. Kim Reynolds said school districts must make up time spent in all-virtual learning if it is done without permission from the Iowa Department of Education.

Gov. Kim Reynolds said at a Tuesday news conference that if schools violate state guidelines for reopening, they will have to make up time at the end of the year and administrators could face discipline from their licensing board.

Some Iowa school districts are considering an all-virtual start to the school year to protect students and staff from COVID-19. Reynolds said individual families may choose a virtual option, but districts cannot move all students to virtual learning without permission from the Department of Education.

“The law is the law and we expect our districts to operate within the law,” Reynolds said. “And if they fail to comply or follow the law then the days when they’re not in compliance will not count toward the instructional time, so they’ll have to be made up.”

Last month, Reynolds ordered districts to spend at least half of their time teaching in-person, unless the Iowa Department of Education gives permission to go virtual because of rising coronavirus rates.

In recent days, a handful of districts have announced plans that run counter to state guidelines. The Waukee Community School District plans to provide all in-person learning with an all-virtual option, but the school board said in a statement it will not follow state guidance on when to close a school because of pandemic conditions.

“We believe in local control and this circumstance is no different,” the board said. “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.”

Reynolds said a law passed late in the legislative session means state rules supersede local control. That law (SF 2310) states that schools cannot primarily use remote learning unless the governor allows it by proclamation.

“We’re operating under the guidelines that we were given, and I agree with it,” Reynolds said. “I think it is the right thing to do to get our kids back in school and that should be the goal.”

Democrats in the Iowa legislature say the requirement for at least 50 percent in-person instruction was created by Reynolds, a Republican, not by the law.

“It simply says we would prefer in-person instruction if all other factors were equal,” said Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, the ranking member of the Senate Education Committee. “How those factors are measured and weighed in the process is a matter of subjective interpretation.”

Schools are still deciding how to adjust their plans based on the shifting conditions of the pandemic and state guidelines.

The Urbandale Board of Directors voted Monday to continue remote learning at a year-round elementary school for another two weeks, even though the district does not have permission to go beyond August 6. Reynolds said the state will wait until the board announces district-wide plans next week before taking any action on that decision.

Des Moines Public Schools is considering an all-virtual start to the year and has said it cannot meet requirements for 50 percent in-person learning at the high school level while also following CDC guidelines for physical distancing.

Reynolds said she plans to meet with Urbandale and DMPS leaders to ask them to comply with the state rules.

Grant Gerlock is a reporter covering Des Moines and central Iowa