Students won’t return to Iowa classrooms this academic year, Gov. Kim Reynolds said Friday in extending her order closing schools.
Schools have not held in-person classes since mid-March when Reynolds first recommended they close to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. On April 2, she ordered schools closed until April 30 and said she would give districts notice before then if that were to change.
“Believe me, I would like nothing more than to stand before you today and announce that Iowa will be open for school in May,” Reynolds said Friday during a news conference at the state’s emergency operations center, explaining health data does not support the safely of reopening school buildings.
Iowa high school spring sports are canceled as well, and summer sports will be re-evaluated later.
In extending her order to close schools, Reynolds will continue to waive instructional time requirements for schools that provide remote learning opportunities.
She said schools will be allowed to begin the 2020-2021 school year before Aug. 23.
The announcement came on the same day the state reported the highest daily tally of new coronavirus cases since the disease was found in Iowa last month.
The 191 new cases eclipses the previous spike of 189 announced Tuesday. Linn is the only county in Iowa to have more than 300 cases — and its 304 cases puts it almost on par with the 305 cases reported in the entire state of Wyoming.
In Iowa, 64 people so far have died of COVID-19 and there are a total of 2,332 cases in 82 of the state’s 99 counties.
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The four COVID-19 deaths reported Friday include the first in Black Hawk County, where the state said an individual between the age of 61 and 80 died. Officials also reported one death in Scott County, between 61-80; one in Tama County, 81 or older; and one in Washington County, between 61 and 80.
A peak of the COVID-19 cases is expected at the end of the month.
The state is working to support schools and families as they adjust to “a new way of learning and of life,” Iowa Department of Education Director Ann Lebo said during the news conference.
“Unlike previous classes, the Class of 2020 likely won’t go to prom, have a senior skip day or even a graduation ceremony, but despite all of this they remain focused on the future,” Lebo said. “We know parents are adjusting, too, in more ways than I can fairly capture, so to them I just want to say thank you.”
With buildings closed for the rest of the academic year, school districts still will be required to provide continuous learning opportunities if they do not want to be forced to make up lost time face-to-face later.
“Under normal circumstances, the timeline for developing continuous learning plans would take months, years even,” Lebo said. “Our schools developed and implemented solutions in only a matter of weeks.”
Every public school district in the state submitted a plan for continuous learning by an April 10 deadline.
Districts will need to submit another “return to learn” plan by July 1. Those can include summer school and other enrichment opportunities “designed to address disruptions in learning as a result of COVID-19,” Lebo said.
“As we find our way forward, robust, engaging options for learning outside of brick-and-mortar will become an integral part of our educational framework,” she said. “Complementing face-to-face learning, and preparing students for the increasingly digital world they live in.”
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In their continuous learning plans for this school year, most districts in the sate, 285 of 327, will offer “voluntary educational enrichment opportunities” — optional, ungraded work that won’t count for class credit. Voluntary opportunities include online activities and paper work sheet packets.
Only six districts will implement “required educational services” for all grade levels. Those services should nearly match the rigor of normal classes, and student attendance will be taken and work can be graded.
The state also allowed 36 districts to provide a combination of required and voluntary learning. Many of those districts plan to offer required services for high-schoolers — including Linn-Mar Community, Marion Independent, College Community and Solon Community school districts — while they continue to provide younger students with voluntary learning opportunities.
Among the state’s accredited private schools, 179 schools submitted plans — 80 for required, 73 for voluntary and 26 for a combination.
Reynolds’ announcement came a day after President Donald Trump gave governors guidelines for reopening their states. Reynolds said she was pleased with the content of the Thursday afternoon call with the White House.
Trump’s guidance stipulated states, before relaxing social distancing measures, should see the number of reported “covid-like” symptoms and cases trending down, and hospitals should have capacity to treat all patients without crisis care and be testing its health care workers.
Governors have authority to decide whether to follow the guidance, which includes three phases.
In Trump’s phase one, schools that already are closed should remain closed. In phase two, for states “with no evidence of a rebound,” schools can reopen.
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John McGlothlen of The Gazette contributed to this report.
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