Iowa City School Board votes to begin school year online

The Iowa City School Board voted on Saturday morning to begin the 2020-21 school year online, following the governor’s approval of their waiver for in-person earlier this week.


Michael Guhin

The Iowa City Community School District sign is seen on Apr. 29, 2019

John Reasoner, News Reporter

Iowa City schools will begin the school year completely online after receiving permission from the state following a high rise in positive COVID-19 cases.

In its meeting on Saturday via Zoom, board members voted to accept a waiver from the Iowa Department of Education to be fully virtual for the first two weeks of the semester beginning on Sept. 8.

The meeting was open to the public, and board members allowed one hour of comments from the community before casting their votes. The Iowa City Community School District reiterated their intention to sue the state for local control over learning methods and extracurricular activities.

The waiver — approved in response to the COVID-19 spike in Johnson County — will allow the the district to hold all classes online for a two-week period. After this period, the district will be mandated to return to in-person learning unless an extension is granted to the waiver.

In the meeting, School Board Vice President Ruthina Malone expressed her uncertainty that the two weeks would be enough to return to school safely due to the high rise in positive cases.

“I am not optimistic in two weeks this will magically disappear,” Malone said.

During the community forum preceding the board’s vote, the panel heard perspectives from students, parents, and staff within the school district on how they felt the district should proceed with learning formats.

Student-athletes from each high school argued for schools to open with at least a hybrid model to allow for the resumption of athletics. State education authorities said Aug. 15 that schools that opted for total online instruction are barred from participating in athletics.

Local parents also voiced their concerns at the meeting, which ranged from full support of an online model to urging the district to allow individual families to choose their mode of learning.

This difference in opinion carried over to the Zoom chat, where a debate ensued over the practicality of social distancing in the classroom and the merits of online vs. in-person instruction.

Following the community forum, board members affirmed their commitment to their joint lawsuit with the Iowa State Education Association against the state. They cited guidelines for positivity rates, mandates for holding extracurricular activities, and an overall desire for more flexibility in their decision-making.

Interim Superintendent Matt Degner said he felt the school district has received little support from the state government. Degner said there were “arbitrary” guidelines for Iowa schools to safely return to classes and how to run extracurricular programs.

“This is why we’re challenging Senate File 2310,” Degner said of the education department’s interpretation of the law.

Before the meeting, School Board President Shawn Eyestone said the lawsuit is specifically about local control and how the Senate File 2310 is being executed.

Eyestone argued that he would vote with the intentions of the health of the community.

“We are not trying to play politics with the governor,” he said. “I’d like to say [the result of the vote] makes me happy, but it doesn’t.”