CORONAVIRUS

Rita Hart: Cooperation needed to safely reopen schools

2nd District Democrat sees chance to look at education 'in a new way'

Second District U.S. House candidate Rita Hart (bottom row) listens as panelists on Thursday, July 23, 2020, discuss the
Second District U.S. House candidate Rita Hart (bottom row) listens as panelists on Thursday, July 23, 2020, discuss their concerns about safely reopening Iowa schools. The panelists for the virtual session were (from top left) retired teacher Dianne Prichard of DeWitt, Melinda Jones of Ottumwa, Tara Shochet of Iowa City and North Scott school board member Molly Bergfeld. (Screen image)

Former classroom teacher Rita Hart, who is running for the U.S. House in Iowa’s 2nd District, on Thursday called for more collaboration at all levels to safely reopen schools this year.

“We can do this,” Hart said during a virtual roundtable discussion with parents, teachers and a school board member about the challenges schools face because of the coronavirus pandemic. “We need to do this because it’s so important that our children get the education that they deserve.”

If there’s an upside, Hart said, it’s that COVID-19 has created an opportunity to look at education in a new way “and to get the resources here that can really help us to do a better job, not only for this fall, but for all the falls to come,” said Hart, a Wheatland Democrat who hopes to succeed retiring Rep. Dave Loebsack.

Her panelists called for guidance from Des Moines and Washington but also called for greater local control.

Tara Shochet, whose children attend Iowa City schools, was upset that after the school district laid out a plan for remote learning until at least October, Gov. Kim Reynolds called for in-person classes in August.

“There needs to be local control so that the individual communities can assess what’s happening in our community,” Shochet said. “So I’m very frustrated right now.”

North Scott school board member Molly Bergfeld also called for local control and more guidance from Des Moines on critical decisions, such as protocols when someone in a school tests positive for COVID-19.

“What does that mean for the class? What does it mean for the building?” she said.

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Schools, she said, also need funding for expenses they didn’t budget for, such as personal protective equipment, more computers and internet access, and the need to run more bus routes to ensure distance between students.

“That’s where we need some state and federal funding to ensure that we can provide for the safe environment when our kids do go back to school,” Bergfeld said.

Hart agreed, saying Bergfeld’s concerns highlight the need for all parties to work together.

“If we don’t listen to the people that are affected most by the problem, we are not going to effectively come up with the solutions to it,” she said.

Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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