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Iowa prepares for possible online classes for K-12 students amid coronavirus outbreak

Iowa law doesn't currently allow virtual learning to count toward the minimum hours required each school year, but that could change soon.

DES MOINES, Iowa — Iowa's governor is preparing for the possibility of online learning at Iowa's K-12 schools amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Right now, Iowa's Department of Education said state law doesn't allow virtual learning to count toward the minimum hours required each school year. 

Thursday evening, Gov. Kim Reynolds said she's considering taking action to change that. 

"It is something that we're looking at," Reynolds said. "We did the disaster proclamation and there's another step that we can take that would address some of these issues."

One thing the governor said she is considering is issuing a proclamation to help schools move towards online learning. 

"We're working with the Department of Public Health in addressing different issues like this as we work through our pre-pandemic assessment," Reynolds said. "We'll be at the [State Emergency Operations Center] SEOC tomorrow with all of our agencies and that's one of the things we'll be addressing is what that health proclamation looks like and some of the legislative requirements or issues that we need to address, whether it's education or whatever that may be."

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Iowa's Department of Public Health isn't advising school closures right now, but if there ends up being community spread then impacted areas may start seeing closures.

Iowa's House Speaker said right now they aren't going to act on any virtual education bills unless health officials tell them it's necessary. 

"We need to be prepared to look at what the answers to those questions are, again, I just learned of this one, and we'll react accordingly, but I don't want to start just making all these predictions on what we should be doing," Iowa House Speaker Pat Grassley said. "I think there's already enough uncertainty based on the decision that the [Board of] Regents made without consulting the Department of Public Health that has already added enough confusion. I don't think the Legislature wants to jump in on that."

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Grassley also said lawmakers aren't going anywhere because of the coronavirus. 

"Better be safe than sorry," Grassley said. "That would mean just shut everything down. I don't agree with that assessment. We need to be prepared to make changes. If that would need to happen."

Grassley said that he's getting his guidance from the Iowa Department of Public Health.

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He said that lawmakers have been fielding questions from their constituents about COVID-19.

Des Moines Public Schools announced Thursday that they'll be canceling school until March 30. The closure starts Friday evening. 

They aren't planning on virtual lessons, but South Hamilton Community Schools did send a letter out Wednesday, telling people to prepare for virtual class environments. 

"Students and staff will be required to take their devices home this Friday," South Hamiton Superintendent Ken Howard said in the letter. "Students will be instructed as to how they will be notified, access the lessons, and work through the process if the district moves to online instruction due to closer. There is a small percentage of students (less than 5%) without an internet connection and the delivery will be offered in an alternative manner."

"Our hope is that this process does not need to take place, however, the district wants to be prepared so that educational opportunities are able to continue if there is a call to suspend face-to-face instruction in the coming weeks," Howard continued in the letter.

Credit: Local 5 News
Letter from Dr, Ken Howard, Superintendent of South Hamilton CSD 3-11-20

Friday, Norwalk Community School District issued a message to parents and staff saying they're continuing normal operations for the foreseeable future.

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