DES MOINES, Iowa — Gov. Kim Reynolds made strong requests when it comes to education in her Condition of the State Address Tuesday night.
One of them is she wants parents to have the option to send their children back to in-person learning full time if they want to. Education advocates say there are still health concerns, and there shouldn’t be one-size-fits-all solutions for all the districts across the state.
Margaret Buckton is the executive director of Urban Education Network of Iowa and a professional advocate for Rural School Advocates of Iowa. She wants people to keep in mind how learning will look for each district across the state will continue to vary.
“Well there are many schools that already are doing five days a week and I think that makes it seem simplistic to say ‘why can’t all schools do that?’” Buckton said. “But schools are very different. We have a range of enrollment in Iowa’s schools from almost 32,000 in our largest district down to 112 in our smallest.”
Buckton said there are three different variables for schools to think about. The first is staff capacity: what does their risk look like if exposed to COVID-19 and are there enough educators available to transition back from virtual learning?
The second is the square footage of buildings: what do class sizes look like and is there enough space for people to socially distance?
The third is safety of the students.
“All of the information we have right now that tells us we’re not spreading COVID in schools is because those districts that have urban density and teachers at risk haven’t been doing five days a week,” Buckton explained. “So as soon as we open the doors and have, you know, thousands of people in those classrooms every single day, until we have a strong majority of our staff vaccinated we’re likely to see some implications that are not going to be a happy ending for lots of people.”
Advocates say it’s imperative for the entire education system to be vaccinated before getting all schools back to 100% in-person learning. Buckton said it would be helpful if educators and school staff could move up the priority list for vaccinations.
In addition to parents having the power to choose 100% in-person learning, Gov. Reynolds also wants open enrollment available in all school districts. She wants the creation of public charter schools, as well as the creation of education savings accounts for students to move to another school if their school is failing.
Mike Beranek is the president of the Iowa State Education Association. He stressed the importance of following CDC guidelines in order to keep students, teachers, and staff safe.
Beranek thinks the focus should be on supporting public schools right now.
“The conversation around vouchers and education savings accounts do nothing to help support our schools, our students, and communities today,” Beranek said. “And so that’s something that we think doesn’t even need to be on the table for a conversation because our school districts are working incredibly hard to make sure that our students are learning, that they’re fed, that their social-emotional learning is in a good place.”