Gov. Kim Reynolds introduces guidance for reopening of schools

Schools can request a waiver to move classes online for up to 14 days if the county’s coronavirus positivity rate is above 15 percent.


Katina Zentz

Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks during the Condition of the State address at the Iowa State Capitol on Tuesday, January 14, 2020.

Caleb McCullough, Summer Editor

K-12 schools in Iowa may be allowed to move to primarily online education depending on the condition of the coronavirus spread in their county once school begins in August. 

State medical Director Caitlin Pedati and Iowa Department of Education Director Ann Lebo outlined the guidance that the education department and the Iowa Department of Public Health have set for both individuals and school districts as a whole in a press conference with Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds on Thursday.

Reynolds announced on July 17 that school districts will be required to provide at least half of their instruction in person, and they would need to obtain permission from the Iowa Departments of Public Health and Education to move classes online. 

School districts in counties with less than a 14-percent positivity rate will have to prioritize in-person instruction, Lebo said. A hybrid model will be recommended for districts in counties with a positivity rate between 15 and 20 percent and an absenteeism rate of 10 percent or more. 

Districts in counties with a 15-20 percent positivity rate will be able to request a waiver from the departments to move online. If the positivity rate in the county is above 20 percent, a move to online instruction for up to 14 days can be requested, Lebo said. 

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“No matter the concern, we all share the common goal of wanting our students to return to a high-quality education environment that supports the many needs of our learning communities,” Lebo said at the press conference. 

The Iowa City Community School District school board recently said it would request a waiver from the state to move to online instruction, which the district originally planned to do before the governor’s proclamation. Based on the positivity rates in Johnson County, however, that may not be an option for the district.

Johnson County’s positivity rate was 10.1 percent on Wednesday. The last time the county’s positivity rate was above 15 percent was on June 26, according to the state coronavirus website.

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said on CBS’s Face the Nation on Friday that schools in communities with less than a 10 percent positivity rate should reopen, which Reynolds made reference to, but she said Iowa public health officials decided a 15 percent positivity rate was still adequate for in-person learning. 

“This is a very fluid situation, and it’s going to continue to change, and we’re going to have to be adaptable, and we’re going to have to be flexible, because we get new information all the time,” she said.

For individual students who test positive for COVID-19, Pedati said the Iowa Department of Public Health will recommend a 14-day quarantine for household members of students who contract the virus. 

The department will also conduct contact tracing to attempt to find other students and school staff who have come into close contact with those students. 

If contacts test negative for the virus, they still need to stay quarantined for 14 days, Pedati said, because they could be incubating the virus. 

“This kind of person- and case-focused approach between education and public health is exactly the kind of approach we’ve been taking, and it’s something we’re going to continue to adopt to meet the needs of the activities of the individual case and to address potential exposure for staff, students, and families, no matter the setting that they’re in,” Pedati said.