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A week of many changes

ICCSD asks the state for a waiver from having on-site schooling this fall
Governor Kim Reynolds

IOWA CITY– Uncertainty as to what the 2020-21 academic year will look like continued for families (and staff) of the Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD) in the wake of proclamations by Governor Kim Reynolds related to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.
The ICCSD had already released its Return to Learn plan on Tuesday, July 14, which called for online remote education at home until at least early October. The district had also drawn up multiple plans including an “A/B option” where students would attend school on certain days of the week based alphabetically on their name, hybrid learning models based on grade levels and a 100 percent on-site model with health and safety considerations to be implemented as much as possible. The 100 percent off-site learning model, however, was the preferred plan with required continuous learning for all pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade students.
But, on Friday, July 17, Gov. Reynolds insisted the Iowa Legislature had made in-person, on-site education the presumed method of instruction for the upcoming school year. Reynolds issued a Proclamation of Disaster Emergency, which cited the 2020 Iowa Acts Chapter 1107 (Senate File (SF) 2310), which was passed by the legislature earlier this year.
The proclamation stated SF2310 prohibits a “brick-and-mortar school district or accredited nonpublic school from providing instruction primarily through remote-learning opportunities without explicit authorization in a proclamation of public health disaster emergency.”
In her proclamation, Reynolds said, “I direct that all state agencies, school districts and other local governmental bodies and agencies shall take all efforts to prepare to safely welcome back students and teachers to school in-person this fall.” The efforts, she wrote, “shall also ensure that schools have the flexibility to continue providing education remotely if it becomes necessary and that parents have the option to select a learning model for their children that best meets the needs of their family.”
She added, “But the best interests of students and families requires that our schools are prepared to provide a structured, safe, and enriching academic environment.”
Also on July 17, the Iowa Department of Education (DoE) put out a document regarding SF2310 to provide guidance to the school districts for implementation.
Reynolds had previously signed SF2310 in June, which required Return to Learn plans provide for in-person (onsite) instruction. SF2310 does require the use of remote learning in certain, specifically designated circumstances and removes legal barriers to do so during the 2020-21 academic year. However, Gov. Reynolds has to provide explicit authorization in a public health disaster emergency proclamation for remote learning to be implemented.
In her July 17 proclamation, Reynolds spelled out four qualifying circumstances where remote learning would be permitted: 1) A parent or guardian voluntarily selects the remote learning opportunity; 2) The Department of Education, in consultation with the Department of Public Health, approves the temporary move to primarily remote learning for an entire building or district because of public health conditions; 3) The school, in consultation with state and local public health, determines that individual students or classrooms must temporarily move to primarily remote learning; and 4) A school chooses to temporarily move to online learning because of severe weather instead of taking a snow day.
The DoE also noted in its guidance, “Except as authorized in this proclamation, a district or school cannot move to entirely remote learning and it must provide at least half of its instruction to students in person.”
The ICCSD school board met Tuesday, July 21, in a special session to discuss the Return to Learn plan.
“This past week there’s been many changes for our students, families and community stakeholders after the Administrative Team’s recommendation and subsequent unanimous decision to start the year offsite last Tuesday,” noted Interim Superintendent Matt Degner.
The governor’s proclamation and DoE guidance “was not anticipated,” Degner said, “and inherently conflicts with the work the district’s been engaged in for the past several weeks and months.”
Degner said he wanted to affirm the district’s plans and commitment to them. “We still feel this is the best approach (remote learning) for Aug. 24 (the first day of classes),” he said. “The district will be seeking permission (a waiver) for our need to start in an off-site environment, and for our hybrid plan as presented last week.”
Degner said it was also important for the district to have more flexibility and timeliness in making the decision to close buildings and/or the district. “The recent guidance seems to create overly restrictive measures to do so,” he added.
Degner did find one bit of “good news” in the proclamation, that being the district will receive the same amount of per-pupil funding for students who choose remote learning. “We’re glad to hear them affirm the online option can be guaranteed to families, so we’ll come out with some further indicators and information for our families,” he said.
Also up in the air, as of July 21, was the status of fall sports for the ICCSD. The Iowa High School Athletic Association released a revised schedule for football on Friday, July 24, with the first practices able to begin on Monday, Aug. 10. The Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union had not announced its plans for fall sports as of Sunday, July 26.
On Friday, July 24, Reynolds signed another proclamation, this one continuing the State Public Health Emergency Declaration for an additional 30 days and extending the current public health mitigation measures currently in place for businesses and other establishments. It also reiterated “Under Iowa law, ‘in-person instruction is the presumed method of instruction’ for all school districts and accredited nonpublic schools during the 2020-21 school year.” This proclamation also contained the four conditions for approval of remote learning mentioned previously.
The school board was to meet on Tuesday, July 28 (after this edition’s deadline), with a Return to Learn update on the agenda.
Likewise, the Clear Creek Amana Community School District scheduled a school board work session to finalize its Return to Learn plan for Monday, July 27, with the board expected to approve it during a special meeting on Wednesday, July 29.