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In-Person School Requirement Passes Iowa Legislature

iowa capitol
John Pemble
IPR file
The bill mandates five days a week of in-person learning in Iowa schools.

The Iowa Senate and House both passed a bill Thursday requiring schools to offer fully in-person learning, in spite of continued community transmission of COVID-19.

Gov. Kim Reynolds is expected to quickly approve the proposal, which she highlighted in her Condition of the State speech as something she wanted to get done early in the legislative session.

The bill mandates five days a week of in-person learning in Iowa schools. Schools not offering an all in-person option would have to begin one by the next Monday at least two weeks after the bill is signed. If Reynolds signs the bill Friday that would be February 15.

Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, said the change is necessary to reverse learning loss among students going back to the spring.

“There is no doubt, I don’t think anyone can one can argue in here, that our kids are falling behind,” Zaun said.

Most districts already have full-time in-person classes, but some larger systems such as Urbandale, Des Moines, Dubuque and Iowa City are only in-person part-time. Des Moines Public Schools has said that if students are attending full-time, social distancing will not be possible in many classrooms.

Democrats in both chambers proposed unsuccessful amendments that would have made the mandate effective only if schools could follow all COVID guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control or only once teachers are able to be vaccinated for the virus.

“We all want the kids back in the school as soon as we can do that safely,” said Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames. “And it’s not just the kids’ safety we need to protect. It’s the teachers and staff as well.”

The Department of Education can still approve remote learning if there’s a surge of infections. The bill says going forward the agency should also consider shortages of teachers, substitutes, food service workers and bus drivers when considering districts’ requests to go virtual.

Grant Gerlock is a reporter covering Des Moines and central Iowa