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There are several media reports about school boards in Iowa opting to go entirely or mostly online. They report these districts are doing so in defiance of Gov. Kim Reynolds’ recent order related to reopening this fall. 

Reynolds said that local school districts could go entirely online only if their district for 14 days if they have ten percent absenteeism or their county reaches a 20 percent positivity rate testing for COVID-19. 

The Iowa Department of Education encourages a hybrid learning environment that includes virtual learning and on-site learning when their county experiences transmission rates of 15 to 20 percent. 

Des Moines Public Schools, Urbandale School District, Johnston School District, and Winterset School District recently decided to either go mostly online or chose a hybrid learning environment instead of reopening for in-person learning with social distancing. 

Let’s be clear. These school districts are not defying Reynolds; they are defying state law. 

In June, the Iowa Legislature overwhelmingly passed a Return to Learn bill. It passed 49 to 0 in the Iowa Senate and 92 to 6 in the Iowa House. Reynolds signed it into law. 

It reads, “Any return-to-learn plan submitted by a school district or accredited nonpublic school must contain provisions for in-person instruction and provide that in-person instruction is the presumed method of instruction.”

Those defending the school districts’ decision claim local control, and Iowa does have local control statutes on the books. However, a comprehensive reading of Iowa K-12 education law shows that school districts do not have absolute local control; the state controls many aspects of K-12 education. 

The state dictates teacher licensure, state standards, assessments, and graduation requirements, to name a few things. 

I wish school districts had absolute local control, but the fact is, they don’t. I find it ironic that those who cry, “local control!” were at best silent when the state board of education pushed academic standards (Common Core, Next Generation Science Standards) onto local school districts that impacted curriculum and assessments; at worst, they advocated for them. That is a greater affront to local control than telling schools they can not go entirely online.

Just like schools can’t ignore the state’s education standards (as much as I wish they could), they also can not ignore state law as it applies to reopening.

Also, online learning was always meant to be an option for parents to choose for their students. It was never intended to be compulsory. 

My advice to parents who find themselves in districts that decide to go entirely or mostly online this fall: take the opportunity to homeschool. If you want your student to engage in online learning, there are quality, experienced programs accessible to homeschooling families that are a far cry better than what your local public school, with zero online learning experience, can offer. 

If your kids are going to be learning at home, you might as well do it right. 

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