Governor extends school and business closings through April 30

By: - April 2, 2020 4:42 pm

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks during a press conference updating Iowans on the status of COVID-19 cases on April 2, 2020, in Johnston. (Photo by Brian Powers/Pool, The Register)

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds on Thursday extended through April 30 the closing of schools and selected businesses, as well as the statewide ban on gatherings of more than 10 people.

The governor’s order, made in response to the growing COVID-19 pandemic, also extends through April 30 the ban on all non-essential and elective medical and surgical procedures.

Reynolds said she’s not yet ready to close schools through the remainder of the school year, but said it’s important for Iowa educators to provide continuous learning opportunities to all students.

“There are a number of ways that schools can continue to engage students during this time and it’s each district’s responsibility to do so,” she said.

School districts that choose not to provide continuous learning for students will be required to make up for at least some of the instructional time that is lost due to the pandemic, Reynolds said.

Iowa Department of Education Director Ann Lebo said schools that choose to provide continuous learning have two options to choose from — one that requires students’ participation and one that treats student participation as voluntary.

Under new guidelines issued by the department, all public school districts and accredited nonpublic schools that opt for continuous learning are required to tell the state which of the two options — voluntary or compulsory — they’ve selected.

Reynolds was again asked why she has not issued a shelter-in-place order, as the governors of most other states have. As before, Reynolds said her decision is based on metrics and data that tell her how far the virus has already spread and where the “hot spots” in the state are. That approach, she said, gives Iowa greater flexibility in responding to the spread of COVID-19.

Iowa, Nebraska, Arkansas, South Dakota and North Dakota are the only states entirely free of a shelter-in-place order. Seven other states, including Alabama, Texas and Missouri, are subject to local or regional shelter-in-place orders.

Asked whether she feels Iowa will have to restart the budgeting process for the fiscal year that begins July 1, Reynolds said she is meeting with David Roederer, the director of the Iowa Department on Management, on a weekly basis.

“We had almost a $300 million surplus at the end of fiscal year 2019, and we’re going into 2021 with very healthy state fiscal finances and so we’re in a good place,” she said. “But you know we’re going to be like other states, we’re going to be impacted by this, and so we’re going to see that and he’s got metrics that he’s looking at and reporting out.”

The Iowa House and Senate leadership announced late Thursday that they plan to suspend the 2020 legislative session through April 30.

“The health and safety of all Iowans is our top priority during this unprecedented situation,” said House Speaker Pat Grassley, a Republican from New Hartford. “Continuing the pause on session is the right decision at this time but we hope to be back soon to complete our work.”

Leaders are working to schedule a Legislative Council meeting, via teleconference, to formally extend the suspension of the session.

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Clark Kauffman
Clark Kauffman

Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.

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