State issues pandemic guidelines as schools prepare to open

By: 
Travis Fischer

Governor Kim Reynolds and the Department of Education released new state guidelines for schools preparing to open up for classes, as new cases of COVID-19 continue to spread across the state.

Reynolds previously declared that schools will be required to prioritize in-person learning when the new school year begins this month. On Thursday, July 30, she provided more details about the circumstances of when a district will be allowed to switch to a remote learning model.

“We need to keep our next generation learning, growing, and preparing for a bright future, and online learning is an essential component of that,” said Reynolds. “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 state guidelines are largely based on the positivity rate in the district over a two-week period. Districts that see 14% or less positivity in testing on average over 14 days are to commit to on-site learning, with remote learning utilized only by parental request or if a student has been quarantined.

If a county sees, on average, 15 or greater positivity over a two-week period and 10% absenteeism for expected in-person students, the school may request permission from the Department of Education to shut down either a school building or the whole district for up to 14 days. Once approval is given by the Department of Education and Department of Public Health, the district will be authorized to enact remote learning for the entire school.

For schools that cross multiple county lines, it is unclear whether a single county in the district crossing the 15% threshold will be sufficient for a school to be approved for remote learning. Reynolds suggests that school administrators monitor all of the counties in their area and contact the Department of Education for guidance if they think a shutdown is in order.

The push towards in-person teaching has resulted in concerns about the health and safety for both teachers and students, however Reynolds says she believes that transmission of COVID-19 among children is comparatively low enough to make the benefits of in-person learning worth the risk. Reynolds noted that the vast majority of households with children are either single parents or have two working parents, who may not have the resources or expertise to properly assist in an online learning environment for the long term.

“We also have to be mindful of the achievement gap of underprivileged students and how disparities in online resources can serve to worsen that gap,” said Reynolds.

Beyond education, Reynolds also pointed out the social and emotional benefits of school and school activities, noting that 96% of the high school baseball and 97% of softball teams finished out their season of summer athletics.

“That all began with parents and students simply saying ‘All we want is a chance to play ball,” said Reynolds.

As of Sunday, Aug. 2, there have been 45,492 cases of COVID-19 confirmed in the state, increasing the 42,165 total from the week prior by 3,327 cases.

The spike in new cases is largely being attributed to an influx of new cases among young adults, particularly 19-25 year olds who have neglected social distancing guidelines over the summer.

“It’s social gatherings,” said Reynolds. “It’s in the bars. It’s in their homes. It’s at the lakes.”

Reynolds announced that enforcement is going to be stepped up on bars that do not comply with the state’s social distancing guidelines, requiring establishments to create six feet of space between each individual or group. Businesses with an alcohol beverage permit that do not will be issued a $1,000 fine for a first offense and risk a seven-day suspension of their license for a second offense.

At the same time, while the governor continues to informally suggest that Iowans wear masks when out in public and promoting a PR campaign to that end, she remains hesitant to implement a mandatory mask policy across the state.

“I have encouraged all Iowans to social distance and be responsible,” said Reynolds. “Wear a mask. If you’re sick, stay home. Wash your hands often. I have said that since March 8th.”

In total, approximately 1,820 elderly adults (age 80+), 5,459 older adults (61-80); 13,193 middle aged adults (41-60); 21,836 young adults (18-40); 3,184 children have tested positive for the disease. These estimates are based on a percentage-based breakdown of the state’s reported positive cases.

With 32,952 cases considered recovered, that leaves roughly 11,600 Iowans currently known to be fighting the disease.

In testing, 486,273 Iowans have been tested since the start of the pandemic, with an average of 4,800 tests per day over the last week.

Current testing shows that roughly 64% of positive cases result in symptoms while 13% have been asymptomatic, with the remaining cases pending or unknown.

 

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The Buffalo Center Tribune

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