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Iowa Department of Education doesn't recommend masks, illness screenings for K-12 schools

School districts have to get their Return to Learn plans submitted to the state by July 1.

DES MOINES, Iowa — The Iowa Department of Education released guidance Thursday for schools to reopen.

In April, Gov. Kim Reynolds shut down schools because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Since then, the Iowa Department of Education started creating Return to Learn guidance for schools. 

School districts are required to submit their Return to Learn plans to the state by July 1. 

Will students have to wear masks?

The answer is maybe.

In guidance released Thursday, the Iowa Department of Education said they're not recommending face coverings for all students and staff. 

The guidance said masks should be allowed to be worn though if a student or staff member chooses. It encouraged schools to teach and reinforce stigma prevention for those that voluntarily wear masks. 

Individual districts can also set their own mask requirements. 

"The Department of Education can't prevent a local district from requiring masks if they if they would like to do so," said Amy Williamson, Bureau Chief for School Improvement at the Iowa Department of Education.

Iowa's guidance differs from what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended to schools. 

The CDC released guidance for schools on May 19 recommending face coverings be worn by staff and students (particularly older students) as feasible. The CDC guidance said face coverings are most essential in times when physical distancing is difficult.

Will bus routes stay the same?

Williamson said transportation is something they’re still working on guidance for.

"To be honest with you, I don't think that we have completely solved this yet," Williamson said.

The CDC recommended busses only allow one student seated in every other row, meaning a bus with the typical 77 seats would only fit 13 kids.

That would cost districts a lot of money to run that many busses, which is why the Department of Education is still working out what to recommend.

What will special education look like this fall?

That’s a question state educators said they've heard a lot. 

Williamson said the Department of Education will have more guidance on this the second week of July, but right now they’re telling districts to revise individualized education programs (IEPs) for students with disabilities. 

Also, if a district is considering hybrid learning in the fall, Williamson said the Department of Education recommends having students needing more face-to-face instruction in the building.

What if your school shuts down because of a COVID-19 outbreak during the school year?

According to Williamson, the Department of Educations goal is to prevent education gaps. 

Right now, remote learning is voluntary in some Iowa school districts, but that’ll soon change.

"It can't be voluntary learning from home, it needs to be required,” Williamson said. We don't want kids to experience learning loss."

Will your child have to get their temperature scanned to enter the building?

Not necessarily. 

The Iowa Department of Education's reopening guidance doesn't recommend students and staff get screened before school. They cite that the CDC doesn't recommend it, but the CDC does say on their website that daily health checks (e.g., temperature screening and/or symptom checking) should be conducted on staff and students if feasible. 

The Iowa Department of Education provided most districts with touchless thermometers should they need them.

"We've also not given them guidance that they have to take everybody's temperature, but we also know that they may want to take somebody temperature and they may want a touchless thermometer," Williamson said.

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