Schools across the state are currently being asked to bring some sense of “normalcy” back to our children and our families. The Cedar Rapids Community School District is among the hundreds of Iowa districts attempting to provide a meaningful education to our students while also protecting the health of our children, our staff and our community.
Many thousands of staff hours have been spent formulating our Return to Learn Plan, which was due to the Department of Education on July 1. We have confidence in our plans and were in the process of executing them, based on staff and community input. Gov. Kim Reynolds’ proclamation on July 17 was an unexpected change in policy.
As the CRCSD Board of Education, we have concerns with the ramifications of the governor’s proclamation:
• The State of Iowa used a regional approach to our COVID-19 response. Metrics were gathered for each of the six “regions” of the state when implementing mandated responses to the pandemic. While flexibility in regional responses was touted as a benefit, the option for a localized response has been taken away from local school districts and, instead, a statewide mandate has been declared. This seems inconsistent with the governor’s past inclination for a nuanced response to the pandemic.
• Decision making is best left to the local school districts, their administration and their board. Districts, in conjunction with local public health departments, are best suited to make local decisions regarding which of the three Return to Learn plans best fit their community. Any move to a full, online experience requires approval from the state, putting students and staff at risk while those approvals work their way through the administrative process.
• Gov. Reynolds’ proclamation requires that at least half of the learning take place in person. This face to face requirement forces schools to accumulate considerable expenses in mitigating the risk of COVID-19. The governor’s proclamation provides no resources to assist our schools in protecting our students and staff. PPE, health screenings, cleaning supplies, signage, changes to transportation routes and all of the human resources necessary to implement these additional safety protocols will be significant. The lack of increased state funding for these supplies and staff puts the onus on Iowa’s school districts and will impact our education system for years to come. This financial burden will detract from our ability to deliver the quality educational experience that Iowans expect.
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• The governor’s proclamation takes control away from local boards of education. The Iowa Department of Education has become the gatekeeper for any transition from one learning plan to another (i.e. moving from in-person learning to completely online learning). This is in contradiction to Iowa Code 274.3, which gives school boards the authority to “operate, control and supervise all public schools located within its district’s boundaries.” Local school boards are in the best position to understand the needs of their community and are best suited to making those instructional decisions. The governor’s proclamation strips that authority from school boards across the state.
The Cedar Rapids Community School District remains committed to providing a high-quality education to our community. Our superintendent and administrative team have provided strong leadership in developing our three Return to Learn plans. The flexibility in implementing our plan has been diminished by Gov. Reynolds’ proclamation but our mission remains the same: to ensure that all learners experience a rigorous and personalized learning experience so they have a plan, a pathway and a passion for their future.
Comments concerning the governor’s proclamation may be directed to Gov. Reynolds at 515-281-5211 and Department of Education Director Ann Lebo at 515-281-5294.
The board of directors of the Cedar Rapids Community School District includes Jennifer Neumann, Gary Anhalt, Cindy Garlock, Dexter Merschbrock, Jennifer Borcherding, Nancy Humbles and David Tominsky.