Guest Columnist

Resuming school in Iowa - reckless at best, politically pandering at worst

It's educational malpractice, and Iowa students and educators deserve better.

A classroom at Andrew Jackson Elementary School in Cedar Rapids on Monday, March 9, 2020. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette
A classroom at Andrew Jackson Elementary School in Cedar Rapids on Monday, March 9, 2020. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

We’ve all seen the Peanuts cartoon where Lucy tees up the football, promising Charlie Brown he can finally kick the ball, only to jerk it away at the last second as poor Charlie falls flat on his back.

With her proclamation strictly limiting the use of remote learning, Gov. Kim Reynolds is Lucy and Iowa schools are flat on their backs like Charlie. The difference is Charlie Brown was just disappointed and sore because of Lucy’s trick. With the Reynolds’ move, our kids and our educators are at risk.

For months, local school districts worked on “Return to Learn” plans and submitted them on July 1 to the Iowa Department of Education. Most of these plans presented three options that might be used depending on the spread of COVID-19 in a region. The three options were in-person attendance, a hybrid of in-person and remote, or completely remote learning. In other words, local decisions equaling local control.

That was then, and this is now.

In her July 17 news conference and subsequent proclamation, the governor severely limited remote instruction, loosened the requirements for a substitute authorization, and remained silent about any specific safety requirements for restarting school.

The governor’s proclamation overrules local control by placing strict limitations on remote instruction. Districts may only use remote learning under the following limitations:

• If a parent voluntarily chooses online learning from the multiple options provided by the school district

• If because of a health concern in consultation with a local health department a building must be close

• If because of a health concern in consultation with a local health department individual students or classrooms must be closed

If not directly requested by parents, my current understanding is a school district must at least provide in-person instruction for at least half the time during a two-week period. This provision was unclear in both the news conference and the proclamation.

With this recent proclamation, it appears Iowa’s governor agrees with President Donald Trump’s press secretary when she said, “We should not let science stand in the way of schools opening.” We should!

There is also a reason why the governor loosened standards for substitute teachers. She and her advisers know that teachers are going to get sick or walk away before even starting. The current pool of substitutes are mostly retired teachers, who probably won’t risk their health for $100 a day.

So, Reynolds’ proclamation creates a new pool of substitutes who have a minimum of a two-year degree or 60 hours of course work, with no education courses or teaching experience required.

If school buildings were safe for a return, there would be no need to lower the standards for substitute teachers. I have little doubt there may be some people with a two-year degree with no teaching experience who might grow into teaching, but that would be the exception.

It’s educational malpractice, and Iowa students and educators deserve better.

The governor cannot lead by simply saying over and over she wants kids in the classroom and then never suggesting how we keep our kids and our educators safe while following her dictates.

Everyone wants our kids to be back safely in school but the key word is “safely.” Not requiring any of the CDC safety measures recommended for a safe start is reckless at best and politically pandering at worst.

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Iowa educators won’t be the Charlie Browns forever. Their patience is running out. The governor should stop issuing proclamations and start leading.

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City.He was a teacher for 11 years and a regional director for Iowa State Education Association the last 27 years before retiring. He grew up in Shellsburg, Iowa. BruceLear2419@gmail.com

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