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VAN METER, Iowa (AP/KCAU) – Gov. Kim Reynolds said she will override local school districts and require students to spend at least half of their education time in classrooms despite concerns the move could endanger children and teachers as the number of coronavirus cases increases in the state.

Reynolds’ decision Friday will invalidate plans implemented by some districts to limit in-person classes to one day a week for most students with online learning on other days.

“One of the most important milestones in our recovery effort is getting Iowa students back to school. While we all know that school year will different than its ever been before, it’s critical that we prioritize bringing Iowa’s children back to the classroom, safely and responsibly,” said Governor Reynolds.

As schools across the state prepare to reopen, the governor adds that it’s important that the state will continue to provide guidance and information to inform local decision making within state law. On Friday, she gave some clarification to that state law.

“Iowa law says that in-person instruction is the presumed method of instruction for the school year. Schools must prioritize in-person learning for core academic subjects including science, math, reading, and social studies. The Legislature has made it clear that most schools cannot provide more than half of their instruction to any student through remote learning unless I authorize remote learning in a proclamation,” said Gov. Reynolds.

She signed a new proclamation to continue the Public Health Disaster Emergency and taking a number of actions to advance Iowa’s Return to Learn strategy.

Reynolds mentions the proclamation will direct all state agencies, school districts, and local governments to focus on preparing to safely welcome back students and teachers to school in-person this fall.

It also clarifies for when a school may move to primarily remote learning, authorizing it when:

  • Parents select remote learning as the best option for their family;
  • The Iowa Department of Education (DOE) in consultation with the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) approves a temporary move to online learning for an entire building or district in response to public health conditions; 
  • A school, in consultation with state and local public health officials, determines that individual students or classrooms must be temporarily moved to online learning; or
  • A school chooses to temporarily move to online learning because of severe weather instead of taking a snow day.

Finally, the proclamation provides regular relief to address our education workforce, including removing limitations on how often and long substitute teachers can teach and expanding the pool of Iowans who are eligible to serve as substitute teachers.

“Although the decisions about closing and staying closed for the remainder of the school year were difficult to make, they were data-driven and focused on the best interests of Iowa’s students, families, and schools at the time. That’s the same approach that we’re taking to reopening our schools,” said Governor Reynolds.

The governor’s actions are in line with the fervent recommendations of President Donald Trump. Reynolds says districts could seek waivers from the 50% requirement to the state’s Education Department.

There will be no change in the Education Department’s recommendation that districts not require that students and teachers wear masks in school.

Gov. Reynolds held a news conference at the Van Meter Community Schools District on Friday to discuss how to Return to Learn and reopen Iowa schools.

She was joined by IDPH’s Dr. Caitlin Pedati and the DOE Director Ann Lebo.

To read the full proclamation, click here.

Watch the replay of the news conference above or on the KCAU 9 News Facebook page.