CORONAVIRUS

36,000 Iowans sign petition asking Gov. Reynolds to reverse proclamation requiring in-person schooling

Petition objects to in-person classes, lower requirements for substitute teachers

Cars line up Friday, July 24, 2020, near the State Capitol in Des Moines in a rally to oppose Gov. Kim Reynolds' mandate
Cars line up Friday, July 24, 2020, near the State Capitol in Des Moines in a rally to oppose Gov. Kim Reynolds' mandate that Iowa schools offer at least half their core classes in the classroom rather than online in August. Opponents say they don't think it's safe bringing staff and students back to school buildings in the midst of a pandemic. (Erin Murphy/Gazette Des Moines Bureau)

DES MOINES — The Iowa State Education Association said 36,000 Iowans signed a petition urging Gov. Kim Reynolds to reverse her proclamation requiring schools to meet in-person at least 50 percent of the time this school year.

“Gov. Reynolds was flat-out wrong with her proclamation,” ISEA President Mike Beranek said Wednesday. “Each of Iowa’s school districts have a unique set of circumstances they are dealing with right now, and there has never been a one size fits all approach.”

He called on Reynolds instead to issue a proclamation that places the health and safety of teachers, students and families ahead of politics.

Under Reynold’s July 17 proclamation, schools must hold in-person classes for at least half the year.

The proclamation also suspended the requirement that substitute teachers have a bachelor’s degree or higher, and it lowered the minimum age for substitute teachers from 21 to 20.

Reynolds’ proclamation came as a surprise to school districts, including the Iowa City Community School District, which had to quickly reverse course after deciding July 16 on a return to online-only classes.

During the Wednesday news conference, four teachers shared how the governor’s proclamation impacted their school district’s return to learn plans.

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Lesa Banks, an art teacher at North High School in Sioux City, said the district had to adjust its hybrid model of online and in-person learning to meet the governor’s requirement of 50 percent in-person learning.

Banks, who has asthma, said she is in a higher-risk category for the coronavirus and debated whether she would return to teaching.

“I really do love my job, I love my students, and I do not want to teach online,” Banks said. “It’s tough to teach art through a (virtual Microsoft) Teams Meeting.”

Banks feels safer returning to school now that her district is requiring masks, but she would still like to see plexiglass barriers between desks and vents cleaned.

The Davenport Community School District had to drastically alter its return to learn plan too after the governor’s proclamation.

Maggie Rietz, a Language Arts teacher at West High in Davenport, said the district was finalizing plans between a 100 percent remote learning curriculum or a hybrid model where students would meet for in-person classes once a week.

“I felt confident our district was focused on the health and safety of our staff and community,” Rietz said. “This proclamation destroyed any sense of safety I had in returning to school.”

Amy Wergin, a retired educator and substitute teacher, said she will not return to substitute teaching until there is a vaccine for the coronavirus.

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“I don’t see a way to return to school safely,” Wergin said. “We can wear masks, wash hands, scrub surfaces, but how do you socially distance with 26 kids in a room?

“As soon as things got real in March, we pulled the plug, we stayed home, we went to distance learning, we did the right thing and kept everyone safe.”

Reynolds is holding a news conference in Des Moines Thursday at 11 a.m. where she will discuss return to learn plans.

Comments: (319) 398-8411; grace.king@thegazette.com

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