New Iowa Law Mandates Full-Time Classroom Option

The Associated Press

Des Moines, Iowa – Gov. Kim Reynolds has signed into law a bill that requires school districts to provide full-time in-class learning to parents who request it, only hours after Republicans in the Iowa Legislature approved the bill last Friday and handed her a victory in her effort to get children back in school even as coronavirus infection rates remain high.

Reynolds signed the bill despite an outcry from teachers, school nurses and other education professionals who said it is dangerous to require teachers and staff who have not received the vaccine to be in classrooms. The Iowa governor has focused her message and policy proposals on the demands of some parents who have complained about the inability to send their children to school full time.

“It’s time to put local control into the hands of parents where it belongs so that they can choose what’s best for their children,” she said, adding that student achievement in reading and math has suffered with children learning online instead of in classrooms.

Reynolds has been criticized throughout the pandemic for pushing for in-class learning. She has largely required schools to provide at least 50% of teaching in classrooms and allowed districts to seek temporary reprieves to teach online only when virus activity rises to especially high levels. The state has rejected requests from Des Moines and Iowa City to teach online only.

The governor has never required districts to impose mask mandates, and the Iowa State Education Association said up to one-fifth of districts didn’t approve such requirements. The teacher’s union has opposed the measure that would force teachers back into classrooms in districts where distancing is impossible.

“We still believe the people in the best position to decide what is right for a school district are the people in that local school district,” said ISEA President Mike Beranek.

Although the law does not prohibit schools from continuing part in-person and part online – which allow districts to stagger classroom time so that only half of students are present at any one time – districts are likely to go to full-time in-class learning once the bill takes effect on Feb. 15.

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