Iowa governor says schools are 'defying the law' if they follow health guidelines

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Gov. Kim Reynolds is the third Republican governor in recent days to dismiss the advice of local health experts.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds declared Tuesday that schools following the advice of health officials and holding online-only classes this fall are breaking the law.

"I want to be very clear," Reynolds said at a Tuesday press conference. "Schools that choose not to return to school for at least 50% in-person instruction are not defying me, they're defying the law."

According to guidance issued by Reynolds' office on Thursday, schools must conduct most instruction in-person unless the local coronavirus test rate is at least 15% and the school has an absentee rate topping 10%. If that happens, they may request a waiver from the state to conduct all classes online.

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Reynolds' statement came one day after two school boards in the state voted to defy her order.

The Urbandale school board had already received permission from the state on July 13 to start the year with online-only classes. But because that permission was set to expire, the board asked for a waiver extension based on the advice of the local health department, as the district straddles two counties — Polk and Dallas — that have positive test rates of 8% and 7.1%, respectively.

The state denied the waiver on Monday.

The board made the original request "due to high community spread of the virus and in consideration of information and guidance provided by local public health officials," Steve Bass, district superintendent, wrote in a letter to parents on Monday night after the board voted unanimously to defy the governor.

The district requested the waiver extension because the community "is no safer now than it was three weeks ago," Bass stated, and the board "could not, in good conscience, send students and staff back into small spaces for long periods of time."

Waukee School District, the other locality whose school board voted to defy Reynolds, said this week it would not abide by the governor's guidance, stating that "decisions regarding the health and safety of our students, staff and the general community are best made by those most closely associated with the decision-making."

"We will not request permission from the [Iowa Department of Education] to temporarily change our learning model should the need arise," district officials wrote.

Reynolds responded to both districts this week by threatening administrators and students alike with repercussions.

Administrators could face licensure discipline if they don't follow the governor's orders, Reynolds said Tuesday, and the days of online learning "do not count toward instructional time," for students, the Des Moines Register reported. The governor did not threaten to withhold funding from the districts that defied her.

Reynolds became the third Republican governor in less than a week to dismiss the advice of local health officials regarding reopening schools.

On Friday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott declared that the "authority to decide when the school year will begin lies with local school boards," not health departments. His announcement came after health officials in 16 jurisdictions attempted to close schools due to concerns over the pandemic.

Maryland's Gov. Larry Hogan followed suit on Monday, overturning a decision by a county health official to close all schools. Hogan said that private and religious schools should be free to make their own decisions.

Coronavirus outbreaks have cropped up in some places even though the academic year has just begun.

One school in Indiana closed just days after classes started because of positive tests, and another school was forced to quarantine nearly 50 students after they were exposed to the virus.

Nationwide, there have been more than 4.75 million confirmed coronavirus cases, and at least 156,594 people have died.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.