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Reynolds Signs In-Person School Mandate Into Law

Gov. Kim Reynolds signs SF 160, a law opening schools full-time during the coronavirus pandemic.
Grant Gerlock
Gov. Kim Reynolds signs SF 160, a law opening schools full-time during the coronavirus pandemic.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has signed a bill into law requiring schools to provide an option for all in-person learning.

The legislation (SF 160), which was passed Thursday by both the Iowa House and Senate, says schools must offer in-person classes five days a week to all families who choose it. It fulfills a goal that Reynolds said she wanted to accomplish early in the legislative session.

Schools must begin in-person classes full-time on Feb. 15.

Some schools have said that putting more students in classrooms will compromise social distancing and other precautions against spreading COVID-19, but Reynolds said it’s necessary to get students back on track academically and to recover their emotional and mental health.

“It’s about the kids. We’ve seen the data. We’ve seen the statistics. They’re failing. They’re falling behind,” Reynolds said following a signing ceremony at the State Capitol, where she was joined by parents and lawmakers who pushed for in-person learning.

She said local elected school boards that have not approved fully in-person classes are making the pandemic more difficult for working parents.

“It’s time to put local control into the hands of parents where it belongs so that they can choose what’s best for their children,” Reynolds said.

Democrats in the Iowa House and Senate tried unsuccessfully to delay the start of the in-person mandate until teachers and school workers are vaccinated for COVID-19.

Teachers are part of Tier One of Phase 1B in Iowa’s vaccination protocol which takes effect starting Feb. 1, however demand far exceeds the available supply of vaccines.

Reynolds said schools should use funding from the recent federal relief package to add protections against the virus, or call on the state for help refilling stocks of cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment.

At the start of the school year, some larger districts such as Des Moines Public Schools and the Iowa City Community School District resisted the previous mandate to provide at least 50 percent in-person learning. But districts affected by the 100 percent requirement have indicated that they have been preparing to comply with the new rule.

Iowa City schools announced last week the district intends to offer either all-online or all in-person instruction. Dubuque Community Schools posted on its website that fully in-person classes will begin Feb. 15 and an online option will be available.

Grant Gerlock is a reporter covering Des Moines and central Iowa