Iowa schools that defy Reynolds’ order may have to make up days, face disciplinary action

Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks at a news conference Aug. 4, 2020, at Iowa PBS in Johnston. (Screen shot from Iowa PBS livestream)

Gov. Kim Reynolds announced Tuesday that school districts that defy her order requiring 50% in-person instruction could be required to make up those days at the end of the year and administrators may also face disciplinary action.

Reynolds’ comments came in light of several school districts announcing their plans to hold a larger share of classes online. 

Superintendents and school board members from Urbandale and Waukee said they do not plan on following Reynolds’ orders on Monday.

“I want to be very clear,” Reynolds said during a news confernece. “… They’re not just defying me. They’re defying the law.”

On Monday, Urbandale Superintendent Steve Bass informed families that a request to extend 100% online learning for students at Rolling Green Elementary was denied by the Department of Education, meaning the district will have to provide in-person classes.

Rolling Green, which holds classes year-round, has been providing online learning prior to Reynolds’ proclamation requiring schools to have 50% in-person instruction.

After a special school board meeting, Bass announced Monday evening that the Urbandale school board voted to continue online learning until Aug. 20 — defying the governor’s order requiring them to resume in-person classes Aug. 7.

“We find no pleasure in opposing the DE’s denial of our request to remain online for two more weeks,” Bass wrote in his letter. “However, impossible situations call for improbable solutions which is why the decision to maintain the current online instructional model for two additional weeks is necessary.”

The Waukee school board and superintendent also announced in a letter on Monday that they do not agree with Reynolds’ thresholds for when they would be allowed to move to 100% online instruction for two weeks. 

School districts in counties with 15% or higher positive COVID-19 rates and 10% student absenteeism may file an application with the Iowa Department of Education requesting temporarily moving to online-only classes.

The letter notes Waukee school officials do not plan on asking the DOE for permission if they decide to shut down buildings and move to 100% online learning.

“We believe in local control and this circumstance is no different. We further believe decisions regarding the health and safety of our students, staff, and the general community are best made by those most closely associated with the decision-making,” according to the letter. “And, repeated sources of expertise indicate that a more reasonable percentage to consider closure is most frequently cited at 5% and generally ranges from 3% to 10%.”

Des Moines Superintendent Tom Ahart also wrote in an open letter that the district is delaying its school start date until after labor day and plans on starting online across all grade levels, until it’s “safe” to undergo a hybrid learning model for elementary and middle school students. 

High school students may go entirely online for the fall semester, Ahart wrote.

But Reynolds said these school districts are violating the law and said in-person instruction is what’s best for the majority of Iowa students.

For families that do not want to send their students to school, Reynolds said she provided them the flexibility to choose remote learning.

“We’ve heard from countless experts, pediatricians, social workers, mental health providers, the CDC, that’s what’s best for kids is for them to be in school and in the classroom,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds said she is meeting with Des Moines and Urbandale school officials on Monday.

Schools who decline to follow Reynolds’ 50% in-person order will work with the DOE to “come into compliance,” said Jim Flansburg, spokesperson for the DOE.

If a resolution is not reached, the Iowa State Board of Education and the Board of Educational Examiners will consider the next steps.