JOHNSTON, Iowa (AP) — Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds on Thursday urged Des Moines school officials to give up their effort to educate all students remotely because of the coronavirus, after two judges decided that the state can impose its rules on school districts.
Reynolds said the state’s largest district is alone in refusing to develop a plan for in-person instruction and needs to work with the state to develop a plan for students to safely return to school.
“My hope is that we can sit down with the Department of Education and Department of Public Health and start to walk through what we can do to bring them in compliance with the return to learn plans,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds noted that judges in Polk and Johnson counties this week affirmed the state has the authority to require local districts to hold in-person classes, even if there are increased health risks.
Reynolds, a Republican, said remote learning is especially difficult for low-income families who don’t have the resources to pay for tutors or take other actions to augment online instruction. Keeping students out of school also has negative mental health effects, she said.
“So many families just don’t have options,” Reynolds said.
The governor spoke as Iowa reported 819 confirmed new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours and 20 additional deaths.
The Des Moines school board is continuing online learning for now for most students, and it plans to discuss next steps at a meeting Thursday evening.
One controversial requirement of Reynolds' plan is that school districts must wait for county virus tests to reach at least a 15% positivity rate before sending students home for instruction. That rate is three times the level recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.
Reynolds said the rate is higher because in rural counties with lower populations and little testing, the positivity rate could reach 15% quickly with few positive tests results. The proposed rate was intended to balance rural areas with counties that have higher populations and testing.
She said positivity rates in Iowa counties have moved in the right direction with 51 counties showing a positivity rate of between 2% and 7% over a 14-day period.
On Thursday, eight counties had rates above 15%.
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