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Gov. Reynolds signs in-person learning bill into law, DMPS to drop hybrid model

"It's time to put local control into the hands of parents where it belongs, so that they can choose what's best for their children," Reynolds said Friday.

DES MOINES, Iowa — Gov. Kim Reynolds signed into law Friday a bill requiring schools to offer an in-person learning option.

The bill passed through both the Iowa House and Senate Thursday night.

Under the law, schools will be required to offer parents the option to send their child to school full-time during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It's time to put local control into the hands of parents where it belongs, so that they can choose what's best for their children," Reynlds said at the bill signing.

The requirement can be waived if Reynolds issues a Public Health Disaster proclamation or if the Iowa Department of Education grants a waiver to the school due to a high number of teachers quarantining from the coronavirus. 

While on the House floor, Iowa representatives came down sharply on the issue. 

"Nothing in House File 229 restricts school boards or schools from offering all three modalities if they so choose it, it just makes sure that they do in fact offer 100% full time in person," said Rep. Phil Thompson, R-Jefferson. 

"But if we can't social distance in the classrooms, and if we can't provide them the PPE they need and the cleaning materials to disinfect the schools and if we can't get our teachers vaccinated, that's a problem," said Rep. Mary Mascher, D- Iowa City.

Reynolds pushed for a bill like this to be passed during her Condition of the State address on Jan. 12, a little over two weeks ago

It has become a major priority for other Iowa GOP members, which hold control over both the House and Senate.

The new law goes into effect on Feb. 15, leaving some schools scrambling to develop a plan of their own. 

Des Moines Public Schools announced Friday they will only offer either 100% in-person or 100% online learning, effectively removing hybrid learning from their plans. 

Their official plan will be released on Monday. DMPS families should keep an eye out for a form to fill out to make their selection. 

"From our perspective, this doesn't come as a surprise," said DMPS Communications Director Phil Roeder. 

Roeder said the school now has to figure out what they can and can't do while the pandemic continues. 

"I think we'll just have to bear in mind that COVID-19 and the pandemic is not yet over," Roeder said. "We'll also have to be honest about what we can and can't do. For example, social distancing is something that cannot be implemented."

Melissa Peterson with the Iowa State Education Association said the organization doesn't think this was the best approach to take.

"This legislation will force them back into their school building whether they're prepared or not," Peterson said. 

"We still believe that local school districts and their communities are in the best decision to decide what is the safest and healthiest thing to do."

There are less than 20 districts across the state that haven't offered in-person learning over the pandemic.

Polk County social studies teacher Dave O'Connor agreed with the teacher's union. 

"Why I'm angry is because I feel like our state government has had one of the most, if not the most, inept responses to the pandemic of any state in the United States," O'Connor said. 

O'Connor said his district is too big to provide social distancing. He said he is concerned cases will spike.