CORONAVIRUS

Iowa City schools denied virtual learning waiver

Students will continue with hybrid model

Custodian Effie Redig helps a young student with her face covering Sept. 28 at Shimek Elementary in Iowa City. The state
Custodian Effie Redig helps a young student with her face covering Sept. 28 at Shimek Elementary in Iowa City. The state denied a request from the Iowa City school district to switch to virtual classes. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — State officials have denied a request from the Iowa City school district to continue with online instruction for another two weeks.

Gov. Kim Reynolds is pushing to get students back into classrooms.

The denial of Iowa City’s waiver request follows the Dec. 28 denial for a waiver from the Des Moines school district.

The denial means Iowa City students will continue in hybrid learning, attending classes two to three times a week in-person and then learning online from home the other days.

About 60 percent of the district’s students are enrolled in hybrid learning, and 40 percent are in continuous online learning.

The district has shifted between temporary virtual learning and hybrid learning since school started in August.

In November, the state approved requests for 90 school districts or buildings — including the Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, College Community, Linn-Mar, Central City and Clear Creek Amana districts — to go to online learning as the number of COVID-19 cases escalated. Eleven districts were approved for online learning during December.

In denying the Iowa City request for virtual learning, Iowa Department of Education Director Ann Lebo cited Johnson County’s 14-day positivity rate and the rate of student absences.

As of Wednesday, Johnson County’s 14-day positivity rate was 12 percent, below the department’s 15 percent benchmark to consider temporary virtual learning.

Student absences were at 4.5 percent this week, below the 10 percent guideline for student absenteeism.

As of Friday morning, the district reported 64 students and 11 staff members had tested positive for COVID-19, and 113 students and 21 staff are in quarantine from exposure.

Since Aug. 15, 769 students and 186 staff have tested positive for the virus in the district.

The Iowa City school board made a commitment at the start of the school year to adhere to their COVID-19 decision matrix when making decisions about shifting students from virtual, hybrid and in-person learning.

The matrix states that the district will consider online-only learning of the county 14-day positivity rate is 10 percent or higher.

In December, Iowa City schools applied for and received a one week temporary virtual learning waiver by following the matrix, but ultimately decided to return to hybrid learning.

At an Iowa Capitol Press Association forum earlier this week, Reynolds said she wants to give parents and students the option to “safely and responsibly” receive 100 percent in-person instruction.

Educators should start receiving the COVID-19 vaccine before everyone is brought back into the classroom full time, Interim Superintendent Matt Degner said in an interview with The Gazette earlier this week.

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“I don’t think anything has substantially changed with the pandemic to make us feel comfortable doing 100 percent face to face instruction,” Degner said. “I think we have felt more comfortable in our hybrid and continuous remote learning models.”

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

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