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Education

Schools Look To Finalize Return-To-Learn Plans That May Violate State Guidelines

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IPR file photo
Iowa school districts are making their final decisions about how they will bring students back to class.

As school districts across the state make their final decisions about how to start the year, some are choosing to go against state guidelines, even though Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has said that would be against the law.

According to rules set by Reynolds and the Iowa Department of Education, schools must provide at least 50 percent of their instruction on core subjects in-person, and may only switch to all-virtual learning if the department agrees it is necessary because of an outbreak of the coronavirus in a district's local county.

Urbandale will continue all-virtual classes at a year-round elementary for at least another two weeks despite losing permission from the department.

In Waukee, the district’s Return-to-Learn plan complies with the 50 percent rule, but the school board has stated it will not rely on the IDOE to decide when to switch to all-virtual classes. Waukee superintendent Brad Buck said local schools should have the power to respond if coronavirus cases start rising.

“What we’re interested in is setting up a matrix that we believe is more in line with what we’re hearing from medical and health experts and then not seeking permission from the Department of Ed, but our local school board making that decision,” Buck said on Iowa Public Radio’s River to River.

If schools act independently, Reynolds has said education officials would calculate the number of days the district was out of compliance and require make-up days at the end of the school year. Administrators could also face discipline through their professional licensing board.

Des Moines Public Schools has said Reynolds’ requirement that 50 percent of learning take place in-person cannot be accomplished at their high schools while also observing physical distancing. The school board is considering starting the year virtually across all grades to protect against community spread of COVID-19 in Polk County, although superintendent Thomas Ahart said a final plan will not be announced until next week.

Ahart said in a letter to families Thursday that the district is “bending over backwards” to work with the governor and IDOE.

The Iowa City Community School District learned Thursday that its request to begin the year virtually was denied by the department. The 14-day average for positive coronavirus tests in Johnson County is 8 percent, but IDOE is requiring a rate of at least 15 percent, and 10 percent absenteeism among students, before considering a temporary switch to virtual school.

At its next meeting Tuesday, the Iowa City school board will discuss whether to start virtually without permission or choose a hybrid plan that would satisfy state guidelines.