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Making it work, safely

Local school districts scramble to comply with new state law
Gov. Kim Reynolds

DES MOINES Plans are afoot in the Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD) and Clear Creek Amana Community School District (CCA) in the wake of a new law signed into effect on Friday, Jan. 29, by Gov. Kim Reynolds. The law, SF160, requires school districts to provide an option for 100 percent onsite learning.
Today I am pleased to take another important step forward in our COVID recovery by ensuring that every child and family in Iowa has the opportunity to attend school 100 percent in-person, if that is their choice, Reynolds said during a state capitol signing ceremony. When schools closed nationwide last spring due to the pandemic, Iowa lawmakers had the good sense to put measures in place that would ensure students returned to some form of in-person learning when the new academic year began. Legislation approved in June required schools to provide at least 50 percent in-person learning, with waivers through the Iowa Department of Education being made available for 100 percent online learning if COVID-19 positivity rates in a given county were high in conjunction with absenteeism rates in an individual school building, or across a school district.
The ICCSD adopted a hybrid model across the district with 50 percent of pre-kindergarten (PK) through 12th graders on-site on A days, and 50 percent on-site on B days. Remote learning takes place when the students are not on campus. Students have a rotating weekly schedule: Week 1: A/A/A/B/B, Week 2: A/A/B/B/B. Parents have the choice of opting for 100 percent virtual learning.
At CCA, PK-eighth grades meet on-site daily for instruction with the high school students following a hybrid model. Students are assigned to an a.m. or p.m. group and report to the high school Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and every other Wednesday. Students have required learning assigned for the time they are not in the classroom. As with the ICCSD, parents have the option of 100 percent virtual learning with a commitment of doing so until the end of the semester.
Our Return to Learn plan provided sensible guidance and flexibility to support schools in reopening safely and responsibly, and the results have been overwhelmingly positive, said Reynolds who noted the vast majority of our school districts welcomed their students (in August) back for fulltime in-person learning. I commend those school districts from their leadership and board members to their teachers and staff for doing what was necessary to bring kids back to the classroom, and allow the families that they serve, to choose whats best for their children.
Unfortunately, that option hasnt been available for every family.
SF160 mandates a brick-and-mortar school district or accredited nonpublic school shall provide an opportunity for a parent or guardian of each student enrolled in the school district or accredited nonpublic school to select full-time in-person instruction for the parents or guardians student unless this requirement is explicitly waived
State Senator Chris Cournoyer, writing in support of the legislation stated, Currently, 85 percent of the 327 public school districts in Iowa have been in 100 percent in person since August, so this only will affect the remaining few who are still in the hybrid or full 100 percent online models. We know that most students learn best in-person with supports that help them grow and prepare them for post-secondary success.
By Feb. 15, Iowa school districts will be required to allow parents to decide to send their children back to the classroom 100 percent of the time unless explicitly waived in a disaster proclamation. Schools must notify parents and give them five days to select their learning preference. Schools may still offer a hybrid model, and parents may still choose full-remote options where they are available," said Reynolds.
In response, ICCSD Superintendent Matt Degner sent a message to all district families offering a 100 percent online option, and a 100 percent on-site option. Effective (Monday) Feb. 15, 2021, the district will no longer offer the hybrid option. Families were to make their decision by Wednesday, Feb. 3. However, families changing modes (from online to on-site, or vice-versa) have the option to begin the new mode on Feb. 15, or to delay the transition to the new mode until March 11 (the start of the third trimester).
CCA Superintendent Tim Kuehl, in an email response on Friday, Jan. 29, said At this point we are waiting for definitive guidance from the DE (Department of Education) on whats allowable in regards to a hybrid model. CCA will be surveying parents on Monday (Feb. 1) and moving towards implementation of our 100 percent onsite option. We are hoping to still offer a hybrid option for families in addition to 100 percent onsite and 100 percent virtual.
Reynolds made a point of getting students back into the classrooms fulltime during her 2021 Condition of the State Address when she said, I am asking the legislature to immediately send a bill to my desk that gives parents the choice to send their child back to school full time. We cant wait any longer. Our kids cant wait any longer.
The bill passed the Iowa House 59-39 with Democratic representatives Dave Jacoby, Amy Nielsen and Mary Mascher opposed. Republican representative Bobby Kaufmann voted in favor. The Iowa Senate approved the measure 29-18 with Democratic senators Kevin Kinney, Joe Bolkcom, and Zach Wahls opposed.