A new law requiring schools to offer 100 percent in-person learning will create new challenges for educators who already are burdened by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Providing every student the option of in-person learning is a laudable goal, but it is being poorly executed. Our state has not taken up the precautions and investments that would be necessary to ensure a safe return to classrooms statewide.
Gov. Kim Reynolds last month kicked off the legislative session by calling on the Legislature to “immediately send a bill” giving all families a choice of full-time classroom schooling. Republican legislators delivered the bill in less than a month and Reynolds signed it last week.
Already, parents are seeing the consequences of the blunt statewide order.
School officials are warning that students may not be able to follow social distancing guidelines given the number of students in classrooms. While students still have the option to enroll in fully online learning, some districts are eliminating the hybrid option as a result of the newly signed legislation.
This week, five superintendents from the Cedar Rapids area sent Reynolds a letter asking for more vaccines for schools. If returning to in-person instruction is a priority, they wrote, then vaccinating staff and faculty must also be a priority.
Put simply, the state has failed to provide adequate resources to ensure a safe learning environment.
This is not the first time the state has limited the ability of local authorities to govern their pandemic responses. The Reynolds administration required school districts to seek approval before switching to remote learning. The governor and attorney general also insist cities and counties can’t impose mask ordinances, though some have created such policies anyway.
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The in-person schooling mandate is set to start Feb. 15, just over two weeks after Reynolds signed the bill. It comes at a time when Iowa is making encouraging yet fragile progress compared to the surge in COVID-19 cases late last year.
Meanwhile, a potentially more dangerous variant of the virus recently was found in Iowa, making the next several weeks crucial to Iowa’s public health outlook.
A safe return to in-person education is possible, but not like this.
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