CORONAVIRUS

Iowa educators' union sues over in-person classes

Iowa City voted Tuesday to join the lawsuit

The Iowa City Community School District Headquarters in Iowa City. (Gazette file photo)
The Iowa City Community School District Headquarters in Iowa City. (Gazette file photo)

DES MOINES — The Iowa City Community School District and a statewide public educators union filed suit Wednesday against Gov. Kim Reynolds’ administration over a state requirement that schools conduct a majority of instruction in-person during the upcoming school year amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The lawsuit, which the Iowa City school board voted Tuesday night to join, was filed in Johnson County District Court.

Citing a new law passed earlier this year, Senate File 2310, the Reynolds’ administration recently issued the requirement after some districts — including Iowa City’s and the state’s largest in Des Moines — announced their plans to start the school year with all online instruction.

The lawsuit argues the governor has exceeded her authority — that local school boards have primary authority over their education plans.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the critically important right and need of local authorities and locally elected officials like school boards to do what is right for their communities,” Brady Schutt, an Iowa City teacher and president of the Iowa City Education Association, said Wednesday during a conference.

Jay Hammond, general counsel for the Iowa State Education Association, said the group will ask a judge for a temporary injunction to halt enforcement of the administration’s requirement while the matter is litigated in court.

Hammond said the group will argue that the ultimate authority to design educational plans during the pandemic lies with school boards, and that the governor has exceeded her authority in establishing a statewide minimum amount for in-person learning. The group also will argue the governor has violated her responsibility under the Iowa Constitution, which charges government with operating for “the protection, security, and benefit of the people.”

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Reynolds’ administration has pointed to SF 2310, passed this spring after state lawmakers resumed their work following a pandemic-related break. One section of the bill says that unless authorized by the governor, a school district “shall not take action to provide instruction primarily through remote-learning opportunities.”

The Reynolds administration has determined that means at least half of core instruction must be completed in-person. Hammond said the group will ask the court to define “primarily” in that clause.

“The governor has built a house of cards on one word: ‘primarily,’” Hammond said. “We’re going to take that house of cards to a judge and see what a judge decides.”

The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday. Reynolds is expected to hold her regular news conference Thursday in Des Moines.

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