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Iowa’s back-to-school plan emphasizes in-person learning

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds is giving an update on the state's "Return to Learn" plan from the state capitol on Thursday morning.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds is giving an update on the state's "Return to Learn" plan from the state capitol on Thursday morning.(Charlie Neibergall | AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Published: Jul. 30, 2020 at 10:53 AM CDT|Updated: Jul. 30, 2020 at 5:56 PM CDT
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DES MOINES, Iowa (WOWT) - With an emphasis on the importance of in-person learning, Gov. Kim Reynolds said Thursday the state of Iowa is preparing to release protocols for reopening schools amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

In an update from the state capitol, the governor said Thursday that the state will provide “additional guidance” for schools on how to respond in the event of students or staff testing positive for COVID-19, what to do if there is substantial spread in a classroom, as well as processes for temporarily moving classrooms or buildings to online instruction.

“Back-to-school doesn’t mean back-to-normal,” Reynolds said. “There will be enhanced hygiene protocols, social distancing mitigation measures in classrooms and other places.”

The state will provide schools with a 30-day supply of PPE, Reynolds said. The Department of Education will send out a survey to districts to assess their initial PPE needs and continue to work on procurement moving forward.

Reynolds emphasized that the involvement from the state was needed to help school and public health districts — particularly those that span multiple counties — better coordinate. The state will provide guidance based on state data “put into context by CDC guidelines,” she said, to aid districts in their decision-making as the school year unfolds amid the pandemic.

That guidance for local decisions will be informed by the positivity rate over the previous 14 days as well as student and staff absenteeism, the governor said.

“We’re all going to need a great deal of flexibility as we move forward because, as we’ve seen all along with this virus, data and circumstances will change, and we’ll need to adapt,” she said.

The state has advised school officials across Iowa to “be prepared to adjust their learning models based on the criteria in their communities,” Reynolds said.

“Make no mistake, this has been a formidable task that truly is bringing out the best in Iowa resolve, adaptability, and innovation,” she said. “The fundamentals of our “Return to Learn” strategy are safety, flexibility, and parental control.”

The foundation of Iowa’s new education plan emphasizes in-person learning that follows the state statutes requiring that 50% of instruction time take place in the classrooms and emphasize core subjects, Reynolds said.

Online learning is an essential component of keeping “the next generation learning, growing, and preparing for a bright future,” she said. “But it can’t make up for the critical role our schools play in the development of social and emotional skills that our children rely on.”

The governor also noted that the state needs to “be mindful of the achievement gap of underprivileged students” and note that income disparities can worsen gaps brought about by a lack of access to online resources.

Dr. Caitlin Pedati of Iowa Department of Public Health and Iowa education director Dr. Anne Lebow also gave updates during the news conference. Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg was also in attendance.

IDPH update

Dr. Pedati talked about COVID-19 transmission among children, emphasizing the need for schools to adapt as new data about the virus comes to light.

IDPH will be providing updated guidance for educators, along with a checklist, to outlining how to have a safe return, she said. Public Health will work to maintain communication between education and health partners as more is learned about COVID-19.

The state will use new data and information as it becomes available to inform decisions about response and activities, she said.

Dr. Pedati also talked about the transmission of COVID-19 in children. In Iowa, only 6% of positive cases are children, meaning they are not primary drivers of the virus, she said, and appear to have a less severe illness if they do become infected.

“Looking specifically at contact tracing in school settings... transmission among students is not as likely between each other in a school setting as it is in a household setting,” Pedati said.

Early reports indicate cases may vary among children, she said. Those ages 10-17 are more likely than younger children to become infected with COVID-19, and those with underlying conditions are also more likely to have more serious consequences or become infected.

“The virus seems to have a greater and more serious impact as age increases and for people who have underlying conditions,” she said.

The state health department remains committed to encouraging protective measures in schools, including the wearing of cloth face coverings, staying 6 feet apart, staying home when sick, as well as washing hands and using sanitizer, she said.

Copyright 2020 WOWT. All rights reserved.

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