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Local 5 - weareiowa.com | Des Moines Local News & Weather | Des Moines, Iowa

'They're defying the law': Reynolds defends Return to Learn legislation, says online classes must be made up without waiver

Several Iowa schools said they're going to start school 100% virtually this fall, however Gov. Kim Reynolds said they'll be breaking the law if they do.

JOHNSTON, Iowa — Iowa schools that choose to go back completely virtually will face legal consequences from the state, according to Gov. Kim Reynolds. 

"This morning's headlines read that some schools will choose to defy the governor by rejecting the very guidance that they requested," Reynolds said at a press conference Tuesday.

"I want to be very clear, schools that choose not to return to school for at least 50% in person instruction, are not defying me, they're defying the law." 

The law Reynolds referenced is Senate File 2310, which passed the Legislature unanimously and went into effect July 1. 

A further explanation on the law can be found later on in this article.

School officials at board meetings across the state have expressed their concerns of kids getting sick and teachers possibly dying from the virus. 

Reynolds took issue with a question about if a child or teacher getting sick is inevitable. 

"This is part of the problem, the scare tactics that's being laid out by the media," she said.

The governor noted that she's heard from Iowans who are dealing with these decisions. 

"We have an obligation to these children, a lot of times it's the underprivileged that are already left behind."

She pointed to what she called a successful baseball season for Urbandale High School. 

"They figured out a way to bring the kids together and do it safely and responsibly, and even some of those ball teams there were some positive cases," Reynolds said.

Reynolds later clarified that she didn't mean to accuse news organizations of anything, but instead wanted media to present the coronavirus data with context.

"Help us, because I think you're a part of the solution. We all have to be a part of the solution."

Reynolds finished by reiterating her belief that returning to physical classrooms plays into more than just physical well-being. 

"What we're doing to these kids is unconscionable, the fear that we're instilling in them," Reynolds said. "And so I think we all have a responsibility to do better, including me. And we can, and I'm working on it every single day because come hell or high water, we're gonna get through this."

WATCH: Gov. Kim Reynolds' full press conference for Aug. 4, 2020

What does the law say? 

Reynolds signed Senate File 2310 in response to the coronavirus pandemic on June 29. The law, which requires schools to primarily teach core subjects in person unless a proclamation is signed, went into effect July 1. 

The Iowa Department of Education defines "primarily" to mean more than 50%, meaning schools are required to have more than 50% of their core instruction in-person this fall unless the state grants them a two-week waiver. 

RELATED: Gov. Reynolds orders schools to prioritize in-person learning this fall

Page nine of the legislature (embedded below) details the instructional time requirements for the school year.

In a normal year, kids are required to be in school for 1,080 hours or 180 days. The recent law says instructional time requirements will not be waived any time during the school year starting July 1, 2020 and ending June 30, 2021 for any closure due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

If a school can provide remote learning as an option during a shutdown caused by the pandemic, then they can do so. 

The following paragraph from the law says schools can’t plan for complete remote-learning: 

“Unless explicitly authorized in a proclamation of a public health disaster emergency issued by the governor pursuant to section 29C.6 and related to COVID-19, a brick-and-mortar school district or accredited nonpublic school shall not take action to provide instruction primarily through remote-learning opportunities.” 

What happens next? 

The governor said there aren't any plans to change the Return to Learn guidance, despite studies that say kids are spreaders of the virus.

State epidemiologist Dr. Caitlin Pedati with the Iowa Department of Public Health joined the press conference remotely on Tuesday to explain how the state landed at the 15-20% positivity rate threshold that would allow schools to shift completely online. 

"This is a place where we need to be flexible and it's a place where we're going to continue to evolve as new information and new guidance and new science emerges," Pedati said. 

The state said there needs to be a 15% positivity rate in a county on average for 14 days as well as a 10% absenteeism in a school before they can apply to temporarily move classes online. 

Dr. Rossana Rosa, an infectious diseases specialist from Des Moines, said that threshold is pretty high. 

"Here in Iowa, we've been around 7-9%. What does 12 or 13 or 15% look like? That looks like what the South looks like right now. That looks like Texas and Georgia," Rosa said. "What does 19% look like? That's Florida. What does more than 20% look like? That's Arizona."

As for disciplinary action, school administrators that defy the law could be subject to licensure discipline. 

There are currently four schools in the state that are not in compliance with the law: 

  • Ames Community School District
  • Des Moines Public Schools
  • Iowa City Community School District
  • Urbandale Community School District

Reynolds said her administration is working with these districts to provide the best plan possible. 

"As I've said, I believe that we all want what's best for Iowa students," Reynolds said. "We've heard from countless experts—pediatricians, social workers and mental health providers, the CDC— that what's best for kids is for them to be in school and in the classroom."

"Going back to school to school will be different, and we will need to remain flexible just as we have while managing all aspects of our lives during this pandemic." 

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