Legislature moves to require schools to offer 100% in-person classes

By: - January 28, 2021 8:32 pm

Schools will be required to offer 100% in-person classes to students who want them under legislation approved Jan. 28, 2021. (Photo by Getty Images)

Iowa schools must offer 100% in-person instruction under a bill passed by the Iowa Legislature on Thursday.

Senate File 160 gives Iowa schools two weeks after enactment to develop a 100% in-person option for students. Parents can decide to send their children back to school full-time or remain in a hybrid or online program. The bill does not explicitly require that schools offer remote learning options.

Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, requested the bill from the Legislature in her Jan. 12 Condition of the State address. She must sign the legislation before it takes effect.

Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, led debate in the Senate. He said students were falling behind after almost a year of disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Parents, he said, were best suited to decide if their children should return to school in person or continue studying online.

“I believe that parents are smart,” Zaun said. “I believe parents know what’s best for their kids.” 

There are 15 public school districts and one nonpublic school which do not currently offer a 100% in-person option for students, Zaun said. 

School districts may still apply for a Department of Education waiver to move classes primarily online if local COVID-19 positivity rates spike or if there is a scarcity of school staff.

Democrats agreed that they wanted students back in school full-time, but they opposed the bill Thursday. They argued that it was not yet safe to send children back, especially as more infectious strains of the coronavirus begin to spread.

COVID-19 vaccinations in Iowa began in December, but teachers are not yet eligible for a shot. Over 4,500 Iowans have died of COVID-19.  

“If it’s a public health emergency, act like it’s a public health emergency,” Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids said. “We want kids back in school, but we want it done safely. It is not being done safely now. And this bill will make it worse.”

Sen. Sarah Trone Garriott, D-Windsor Heights, shared the perspective of public school nurses who had been working during the COVID-19 pandemic. She relayed stories of overworked employees panicked about the spread of the virus and parents harassing staff over sports quarantines. 

“We’ve seen children go to the ER,” Trone Garriott said on behalf of a school nurse. “Children get admitted that I thought would not be discharged from the hospital.”

The Senate voted 29-18 to move the bill Thursday afternoon. The House passed the bill in a 58-39 vote Thursday evening.

Reynolds is expected to sign the bill. After she does, Iowa schools must offer a 100% in-person option by the first Monday that is at least two weeks after the legislation takes effect. 

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Katie Akin
Katie Akin

Katie Akin is a former Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter. Katie began her career as an intern at PolitiFact, debunking viral fake news and fact-checking state and national politicians. She moved to Iowa in 2019 for a politics internship at the Des Moines Register, where she assisted with Iowa Caucus coverage, multimedia projects and the Register’s Iowa Poll. She became the Register’s retail reporter in early 2020, chronicling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Central Iowa’s restaurants and retailers.