DES MOINES, Iowa – On Friday, Gov. Kim Reynolds announced that Iowa’s schools would remain closed for the rest of the school year.
“I would like nothing more than to stand before you today and announce that Iowa will be open for school in May. But as we look at what the data is telling us now, I can’t tell you with certainty based on the Department of Public Health data, that they’re providing to the office, that early May will be the right time for students, teachers, and staff to gather again in their classrooms,” she said. “So, therefore, I regret to say that Iowa’s schools will not reopen for this school year, but school districts will be required to continue to provide continuous learning opportunities for their students until the end of the regular school year.”
Reynolds made her announcement during a press conference at the State Emergency Operations Center in Johnston, Iowa.
“Closing schools to the end of the year is not an easy decision, and we do know the challenges this creates. But we also know this decision is necessary to ensure the health and safety of those we serve. This also includes the cancellation of spring sports seasons, adding to the many school activities which have already been lost,” Dr. Ann Lebo, director of the Iowa Department of Education, said.
She also said the Iowa Department of Education would provide more information later regarding summer sports by June 1.
Lebo noted that while the school buildings are closed, continuous learning opportunities are in “full swing.”
“Under normal circumstances, the timeline for developing continuous learning plans would take months, years even, our schools developed and implemented solutions in only a matter of weeks. Every one of Iowa’s 327 public school districts, as well as 179 non-public schools, submitted plans just one week ago,” she said. And a short turnaround they kept their families informed, identified student needs, worked to ensure equitable access to learning opportunities, and dove in headfirst to provide continuous learning strategies to meet the needs of their students and families.”
The continuous learning plans are to remain in effect through the remainder of the school year. Lebo announced that schools are required to submit to the state a “Return to Learn” plan by July 1.
“This plan may include options for summer school, enrichment activities, or other opportunities designed to address disruptions to learning as a result of COVID-19 and will be further supported through recommendations from the continuous learning task force,” she added.
Lebo announced that Governor Reynolds waived the late August start date so local school districts can decide if they need an early school start date for the 2020-2021 school year.
She also noted that COVID-19 school closures would impact how students are educated in the future.
“As we find our way forward, robust, engaging options for learning outside of brick and mortar will become an integral part of our educational framework, complementing face to face learning, and preparing students for the increasingly digital world they live in,” Lebo said.
“COVID-19 has created challenges, but our school administrators, teachers, district staff, parents, caregivers, and students are resilient, resourceful, and tenacious,” she added.
Reynolds reiterated that the decision to keep schools closed was difficult.
“All of the decisions that I’ve had to make have had just unbelievable repercussions on Iowans, families, and students and businesses all across the state. Just as other governors have done, when you set down and try to talk about how we responsibly start to open back up Iowa, we still haven’t actually peaked at this point. And we just don’t have the data that I think that we need to start to have the conversation about opening them up,” she said.
Reynolds said she promised schools that she would give them a two-week notice before the April 30 deadline for the public health emergency order regarding her decision. She said with the current data, there just wasn’t enough information to give schools as they plan to reopen with some looking at taking two to three weeks, indicating there would be logistical, as well as public health concerns.
She acknowledged that schools with a voluntary continual learning plan that participation has not been high. Schools may decide to change their plans, registering students, taking attendance, and keeping grades.
“We were kind of just right in the middle of the pandemic, and we had to do what we had to do. It’s been a valuable learning experience. And I think as we move forward, we’re going to continue to enhance it and be in a better place,” Reynolds said.
Lebo noted that schools would have to address that as they develop their Return to Learn plans as every school district will have significant disruptions to address when they return.