JOHNSTON, Iowa — School districts across Iowa are working to develop what returning to the classroom will look like in the fall and addressing the needs of all students.
A central Iowa father said he feels the state isn’t taking the coronavirus pandemic seriously enough.
Prakash Kopparapu said he has several concerns about sending his two kids back to school in the fall, especially his 17-year-old son Krishna, who has autism and is non-verbal.
"This is not a shopping complex or a mall or a store,” Kopparapu said. “These are schools, where 1,000 students congregate in one location in between the classes."
The Iowa Department of Education released reopening guidance for schools on June 25.
The two-page document has been drawing criticism because it gives several recommendations but doesn’t mandate much. A lot of the decisions are left to be made locally.
The Iowa Department of Education released a statement the following day addressing the concerns.
"The Department of Education acknowledges that the reopening guidance released Thursday, June 25, needs further clarification, and will release additional information in the near future as well as health and safety measures for teachers to use to assist students and families," the Iowa Department of Education release said.
Kopparapu said the state shouldn’t be giving local districts as much control as they are.
"It would have been better if there were better coordination and leadership at the state level, the [Iowa] Department of Education, etc.," Kopparapu said. "If they said, 'Okay, based on our conversations with the senior health officials at IDPH and the CDC, this is the right way of doing it and this is how we are going to support you.'"
Iowa school districts need to have their Return to Learn plans into the state by Wednesday.
Part of what needs to be included is how districts will implement required distance learning practices so kids don’t have education gaps if a building needs to close because of an outbreak.
Right now, districts aren’t mandated to require distance learning plans.
Kopparapu said his son Krishna has tried distance learning and it didn’t really work out.
"The staff at the group home, they're mainly trained to take care of him at home, not as educators,” Kopparapu said.
Federal law requires schools to provide all students with equitable learning opportunities.
"The special education laws are about equity for students with disabilities when compared to their peers without disabilities,” said Daniel Van Sant, staff attorney at Disability Rights Iowa. “I would say that's where it's going to come down to is, how were students with disabilities treated and educated in comparison to the rest of the students in their district."
Kopparapu said he doesn’t feel Iowa is prepared to equitably teach Krishna or other children with disabilities.
"We are not ready,” Kopparapu said. “In Iowa, we need to do a lot more. There's a lot of equity missing there. Yes, handling the special education student in the whole department is challenging on a regular day to day basis. I hope this really will take positive out of this and make improvements right away.”
Last week, the Iowa Department of Education said they’re releasing special education guidance in the second week of July.
Right now, the state said they’re telling districts to revise individualized education programs for students with disabilities and if the district is considering hybrid learning in the fall, they recommend having students needing more face to face instruction in the building.
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