Joe Bolkcom, State Senator, Iowa City
Taking the lead from President Trump, Gov. Reynolds and Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg recently overruled local school officials and ordered Iowa kids and teachers back to in-person school in four weeks.
Their decision upends weeks of planning and preparation by local school boards, superintendents, teachers and parents to safely plan for the new school year in the midst of no mandatory face covering order and rising COVID-19 cases across Iowa.
No one is arguing the merits of having kids back in school this fall but it is pretty clear that, with rising infection rates in many communities that the safety of teachers, staff, bus drivers and students and all their families will be put at significant risk.
The pandemic has made crystal clear the critical and extraordinary role our local public schools play in making our society function. The professionals that educate, feed, administer physical, behavioral and mental health services and prepare the next generation of citizens deserve our support and respect like never before.
Unfortunately, teachers have been under attack in Iowa. In 2017, legislative Republicans and the Reynolds-Gregg administration destroyed a more than 40-year-old bipartisan deal that allowed teachers and school boards to work together to establish a fair salary, benefits and work rules for teachers. It was a system that recruited great teachers into classrooms in every school district in the state. The destruction of collective bargaining was a massive insult to these professionals and is already resulting in teacher shortages.
Now, teachers are essential and being asked to risk their own health on behalf of our kids.
This week, Gov. Walz in Minnesota and Gov. Reynolds in Iowa announced their latest return-to-school plans. The Reynolds plan says schools should remain open unless schools and counties reach wildly unsafe levels. The Walz plan says schools will offer remote education until it is safe for kids to return to the classroom.
Rather than rely on Trump’s misguided directive on school re-openings, it’s time for Gov. Reynolds and Lt. Gov. Gregg to follow the science and listen to teachers, school boards, superintendents and parents to safely educate our kids during a deadly pandemic that is killing far too many Iowans.