ICCSD families will have to choose all in-person or all online instruction as new state law limits district’s options

Though not required or even “recommended” by the Iowa Department of Education, the Iowa City Community School District mandates face coverings in schools and on buses. — August de Richelieu/Pexels

Following Gov. Kim Reynolds’ signing of a new law requiring school districts to offer an all in-person class option, the Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD) announced it will discontinue the hybrid model of education it implemented when limited in-person instruction resumed last fall.

“Effective February 15, 2021, the District will no longer offer the hybrid option,” the district said in a statement posted on its website.

ICCSD does not have enough teachers to make offering two different tracks of in-person instruction — both the all in-person and the partially in-person hybrid plan — practical, a spokesperson explained to the Press-Citizen last week.

ICCSD families with students who had been part of the hybrid model will have to choose whether their students will now be enrolled in the 100 percent online program or the 100 percent in-person model. The choice must be made by Wednesday, Feb. 3.

“To make an enrollment change for your student(s), please sign in to your PowerSchool account and click the ‘Permissions’ link on the left side of the page,” the district said. “Scroll to the bottom of the permissions list to find the Enrollment Mode Selection and Mode Change Effective Date permissions.”

If a family doesn’t complete the enrollment change process by the deadline, their students “will remain in their current enrollment mode (on-site or online) on February 15, 2021, and at the beginning of Trimester 3. The District is considering a potential enrollment mode change window later in the spring.”

Although the choice must be made by Wednesday, there will be some time before students must make the transition: “If you are changing modes (from online to on-site, or on-site to online) you will have the option to begin your new mode on February 15, 2021, or delay the transition to the new enrollment mode until the beginning of Trimester 3 on March 11, 2021.”

The district advises anyone needing help completing the process to “reach out to your school’s Principal, Counselor, Student & Family Advocate, or Cultural Liaison.”

ICCSD’s hybrid model, which combined in-person and online instruction, was being used to limit the number of people in school buildings at any one time, in order to facilitate social distancing and mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

But starting last summer, Gov. Reynolds made it clear she wanted schools to return to all in-person instruction for all students, unless a family has selected an all-online option for their students.

“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,” Reynolds said before signing SF 160 into law on Friday.

SF 160 is the first bill Reynolds has signed this legislative session. The Republican leaders of the Iowa House and Senate fast-tracked it, moving it from subcommittee to final passage in five days.

Democrats in the Senate proposed amendments to the bill during the floor debate. One would have required Iowa schools to follow federal guidelines on face coverings, social distancing and ventilation. Another would have delayed the implementation of the law until teachers and school staff had been received the COVID-19 vaccine.

The Republican majority rejected the amendments on party-line votes.

Teachers and school staff became eligible to receive vaccines on Monday, but limited vaccine supplies in Iowa mean that vaccination process will probably take a long time.

“We really need to temper expectations around the vaccine,” Superintendent Matt Degner said during the Jan. 26 ICCSD Board of Directors meeting. He explained, “we’re looking at several weeks and months to work through our 2,500 employees and staff members that we have on the list.”

Reynolds has repeatedly said she believes that problems exacerbated by students not being in the classroom full-time outweigh the likelihood that filling those classroom will increase spread of COVID-19 in schools or the communities in which they are located.

A new study of the impact of school reopening on virus spread was published by the Journal of American Medical Association on Jan. 16. Examining data from selected school districts in the United States, as well as the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control report on schools and data from Israel, the authors found that schools did not increase spread of the virus in communities where transmission of COVID-19 is already largely under control.

Preventing transmission in school settings will require addressing and reducing levels of transmission in the surrounding communities through policies to interrupt transmission (eg, restrictions on indoor dining at restaurants). In addition, all recommended mitigation measures in schools must continue: requiring universal face mask use, increasing physical distance by dedensifying classrooms and common areas, using hybrid attendance models when needed to limit the total number of contacts and prevent crowding, increasing room air ventilation, and expanding screening [and] testing to rapidly identify and isolate asymptomatic infected individuals. Staff and students should continue to have options for online education, particularly those at increased risk of severe illness or death if infected with [COVID-19].

ICCSD does require students, teachers and staff to wear face coverings. Reynolds has not required schools to do so statewide.

The WHO and CDC recommend that schools not reopen classrooms until an area’s 14-day average positivity rate is 5 percent or lower. On Monday, only four Iowa counties — Emmett, Greene, Mitchell and Poweshiek — met that standard, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health.

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