Editorial | Iowa is a COVID-19 embarrassment

Gov. Kim Reynolds undermined school reopenings by lifting COVID-19 restrictions.


Ryan Adams for the Daily Iowan

Gov. Kim Reynolds gives the State of the State address in the house chamber of the Iowa State Capitol on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021 in Des Moines. Gov. Reynolds highlighted in the address expansion of broadband internet, a push for in-person learning, and economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

As students taking several classes online this semester, we know the constraints of out-of-classroom learning. But the very precautions that would allow students and teachers to safely return — public mask requirements and limited gathering sizes outside of schools — Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds tossed out the window.

It’s a pattern of Reynolds’ handling of COVID-19 in the Hawkeye State.

Last year, we stood out globally as a COVID-19 hot-spot. At one point, we ranked 22nd in COVID-19 nationwide deaths, 4th in the nation for daily reported cases, and three of our cities made the top 20 hotspot list in the country.

Now, Iowa ranks as one of the slowest states for vaccine distribution.

But rather than focusing on creating a well-developed vaccine distribution plan or passing legislation to keep Iowa safe, Reynolds’ main concern is micromanaging schools instead of COVID-19.

Her hypocritical behavior is unacceptable when she continues to push for in-person learning but refuses to pass legislation based in science to stop the spread of the virus.

Her negligence and hypocrisy has cost over 5,000 lives in Iowa, and more people are going to pay the price if it continues.

In summer 2020, Reynolds required that Iowa schools needed to have at least 50 percent of classes in-person during the fall semester. She claimed at the time we owed better education to the students of Iowa.

But high-quality education cannot be delivered when the people of Iowa do not feel safe.

The Iowa City Community School District and Iowa State Education Association filed a lawsuit requesting for control of local school openings but were denied the request. When COVID-19 was at its worst last fall, communities should not have been forced to be in the classroom when it was not safe.

The decision made was based on protecting the mental health and overall wellbeing of students, especially those who don’t have family support systems to help facilitate online learning. But Reynolds could have done so much more to ensure Iowa families’ physical health wasn’t at risk and ease concerns about COVID-19 spread in schools.

Educational institutions should not be blamed for having a spine that state leadership lacks when making tough decisions to balance student success and community health.

They ended up needing to start a plan from scratch since their model was based on online-only instruction until Oct. 1.

How could she throw a curveball at local schools when they came up with a solid plan? She needed to leave it up to the local districts — who know the community the best — to take charge in providing a substantial and safe education. Her party, too, has expressed displeasure in university decisions to shift more learning online while she couldn’t reign in COVID-19 in the state. Educational institutions should not be blamed for having a spine that state leadership lacks when making tough decisions to balance student success and community health.

Even when she issued a partial mask mandate in November, it did not apply to schools. A mask mandate that required masks to be worn at gatherings with more than 25 people somehow did not apply to classrooms that could have more than 25 students.

At the end of January, she signed a bill that requires Iowa schools to offer a 100 percent in-person learning option.

Many school districts — including Iowa City’s — scrapped the hybrid learning model because they could not keep up with three models of learning. Many parents are disappointed with her decision and are calling it “forced segregation between the healthy and immunocompromised.”

Now, she’s lifted the state’s partial mask mandate and allowed restaurants and bars to operate at normal capacity. It’s clear that it’s impossible to open both schools and return to a normal public social scene safely, but Reynolds wants to dust her hands and pass the buck onto schools and businesses to “act responsibly.”

The UK COVID-19 variant — which proves to be more transmissible — is already in Johnson County. Iowa City consists of college students who spend their weekends packed shoulder to shoulder in crowded bars where this has the potential to be spread.

And she expects the Iowa City community to feel safe in the classroom — at the K-12 or the university-level — when her decisions are allowing behavior that put people at risk?

Stephen R. Covey once said, “be a part of the solution, not part of the problem.”

For the past year, Iowa’s leader acted in a way that is the complete opposite. Reynolds enacted legislation and made decisions that directly contributed to the COVID-19 problems Iowa is facing.

She put her focus on appeasing political ideologues in the state instead of putting in place policies that would actually allow students to more safely return to in-person instruction. She decided to be a part of the problem by putting her own agenda above the safety of the state.

Educating Iowans cannot occur unless we do it in a safe way. And Reynolds is passing the buck to underfunded schools whose educators do not all yet have the vaccine. We cannot be forcing all of Iowa back into schools when there isn’t a state plan to do it safely.

The hypocrisy needs to end, and Reynolds needs to focus on controlling COVID-19 instead of Iowa schools.

Editorials reflect the majority opinion of the DI Editorial Board and not the opinion of the publisher, Student Publications Inc., or the University of Iowa.

Editorial board members are Sarah WatsonAlexandra Skores, Hannah Pinski, and Cesar Perez