VAN METER, Iowa — With just a little over a month before the school year is set to begin in Iowa, Gov. Kim Reynolds announced Friday that she will require students to spend at least half of their schooling inside classrooms, overriding local school districts.
The decision will invalidate plans implemented by some districts, including the state’s largest, Des Moines, which planned to limit in-person classes to one day a week for most students, with online learning on other days.
“One of the most important milestones in our recovery effort is getting Iowa students back to school. And while we all know this school year will be different than ever before, it’s critical that we prioritize bringing Iowa’s children back to the classroom safely and responsibly,” Reynolds said at a news conference.
Reynolds said districts could seek waivers to the 50% requirement from the state Education Department, which would consider making exceptions if there are local surges in virus cases. There will be no change in the Education Department’s recommendation that districts not require that students and teachers wear masks in school, she said.
Her order also made an exception for parents who want their children to shift completely to remote learning. It also said accommodations must also be made for any student to learn remotely if they, a caregiver or a person they live with has a health condition that would increase their risk of COVID-19.
Schools in Iowa moved online when the coronavirus pandemic began in the spring, with the governor ordering schools to remain closed for that school year, according to the Des Moines Register.
“Although the decisions about closing and staying closed for the remainder of the school year were difficult to make, they were data-driven and focused on the best interest of Iowa students, families and schools at the time. And that’s the same approach that we’re taking to reopening our schools,” she said Friday.
Iowa, which was among the few states that resisted a stay-at-home order during the pandemic, posted its highest daily total of confirmed COVID-19 cases Friday, continuing the recent surge that began in late June in the state.
State health officials on Friday reported 879 new confirmed cases and five more deaths. Rates of hospitalizations and intensive care stays from the disease have been increasing since early this month.
Read more about the governor’s proclamation here.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.