Iowa’s schools must stay closed until April 30, Gov. Kim Reynolds ordered Thursday, an extension of previous closures that will keep more than 520,000 students out of the classroom for a total of at least seven weeks as the state responds to the novel coronavirus.
Students will have to make up missed school days between April 13 and April 30 if their schools do not provide “continuous learning opportunities,” likely through online instruction or paper packets, Reynolds said.
The governor previously recommended schools close until April 13, and so schools do not have to make up days between March 16 and that date.
“Keeping Iowa students out of the classroom is a very difficult decision, but it remains necessary for now,” Reynolds said, noting the closures could slow the spread of the virus in Iowa. “ … That said, it is also important that Iowa schools do their part to provide continuous learning opportunities to their students.”
The governor’s order gave school districts three options:
• Schools can choose not to provide remote instruction between April 13 and April 30 and make up the missed time in-person later in the year.
• Districts can provide “required educational services” during the extended closure. This would fulfill instructional time requirements, and schools would not need to make up school days between April 13 and 30. The state expects most schools in this category to provide learning online. They would have to apply for permission from the Iowa Department of Education to do so, and schools would be able to grade and award credit for student work. Access must be provided to all students under this option, and teams that manage students’ individual education programs, or IEPs, would have to reconvene.
• Districts can opt to provide “voluntary educational enrichment opportunities,” which could include paper packets and online instruction. This option would also fulfill instructional time requirements, and schools would not need to make up school days. Schools cannot require student participation under this option, and work cannot be graded or given credit.
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The Education Department has indicated to school districts they also could choose to provide a combination of “required” and “voluntary” services to different grade levels.
That’s an option the Iowa City Community School District “will be looking closely at,” Superintendent Stephen Murley said Thursday.
The Iowa City district already is providing voluntary enrichment opportunities to students, including activity recommendations both online and offline for all grade levels. Murley said the district will continue to provide those and will decide whether to apply for permission to provide required services after the state application is available.
Education Department Director Ann Lebo, during a news conference Thursday, said the application would be available in a matter of days.
Because the Iowa City district already is meeting the voluntary program’s criteria, the district won’t be required to make up lost instructional time, though some students are unable to access voluntary programming. State guidance says voluntary programming must “consider” equity, but that “consideration does not mean that equity is ensured.”
“There are many obstacles to learning,” Murley said in an email, noting universal challenges of accessing broadband and parental support for learning, as well as specific challenges for students who are English learners and students who receive special education services. “ … We will need to consider these as we look at the options of Voluntary Educational Enrichment Opportunities and Required Educational Services.”
The Cedar Rapids Community School District also is already providing voluntary programming to its students. Those materials are provided online, or families can pick them up at the district’s free meal sites or have them mailed to their homes.
In a news release Thursday, Superintendent Noreen Bush said the district is making preparations in case schools do not reopen before the end of the school year. She did not immediately respond to a request for an interview.
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“So much of this is out of our control and we must plan for a variety of scenarios,” she said in the statement. “We will be thrilled if we are able to return to our buildings before the end of the school year, but we must also plan for the possibility that we do not return to our buildings this year.”
Districts have until April 10 to notify the state if they will providing voluntary or required programming. Private schools aren’t required to apply but were asked to tell the Education Department of their decisions.
Reynolds said districts will receive two-week notice in the future about any more state-ordered school closures.
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