Iowa schools won’t reopen before the end of the school year, Gov. Reynolds announced on Friday. Reynolds first recommended the state’s K-12 schools close to help limit the spread of COVID-19 on March 15.
“As we look at what the data is telling us now, I can’t tell you with certainty based on the Department of Public Health’s data that they’re providing to the office, that early May will be the right time for students, teachers and staff to gather again in their classrooms,” the governor said at her press conference on Friday. “So, therefore I regret to say that Iowa schools will not reopen for this school year.”
“But school districts will be required to continue to provide continuous learning opportunities for their students until the end of the regular school year.”
“Continuous learning opportunities” are not the same as having regular classes online. Federal law mandates that districts cannot require students to participate in the opportunities, or offer official grades for student work done, unless the district can guarantee equitable treatment for students with individual education plans or other special needs.
Iowa Department of Education (IDOE) Director Ann Lebo was asked at the press conference what data her department is collecting on student participation in continuous learning.
IDOE is not currently collecting any participation data.
“I’m not sure how we could gather it,” Lebo said. “We could try anecdotally.”
During the press conference, Lebo explained what IDOE is requiring districts to do.
“To prepare for a return to face-to-face learning, schools will need to design and submit a Return to Learn Plan to the Iowa Department of Education by July 1,” Lebo said. “This plan may include options for summer school, enrichment activities or other opportunities designed to address disruptions to learning as a result of COVID-19, and will be further supported by recommendations from the Continuous Learning Task Force.”
Lebo said IDOE is speaking to school leaders in each district twice each week to keep abreast of developments and to determines the needs of schools.
“As we find our way forward, robust engaging options for learning outside of brick-and-mortar will become an integral part of our educational framework, complementing face-to-face learning and preparing students for the increasing digital world they live in,” Lebo said.
According to the director, it will be up to local district officials to determine if students will be moving onto the next grade as school starts for the 2020-2021 year. The governor has already waived instructional requirements for the rest of the year for districts offering continuous learning opportunities.
Reynolds is also waiving the mandatory school start date in August, leaving it up to each district to set its own date.
The governor said that one of the reasons she made that decision is “because maybe there’s a possibility for some schools to start three weeks early, and start some of that remediation, so that we can start to see where the kids are at and help provide them the instruction they need to get them to where they should be at and really able to move forward.”
At the press conference, Director Lebo said that IDOE will provide more information about what will happen to summer sports seasons by June 1. The spring sports season for Iowa schools has already been canceled.
On April 10, the Iowa City Community School District announced there would be no graduation ceremonies at Carver Hawkeye Arena this spring. However, the district’s grab-and-grow meal program will continue as long as schools remain closed.