The announcement Friday that Iowa schools will remain closed through the end of the current school year came as little surprise to many educators, but that didn’t make it any easier.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds made the announcement during her press conference. She also announced that the high school spring sports season is canceled.
“Believe me, I would like nothing more than to stand before you today and announce Iowa will be open for school in May,” Reynolds said. “But as we look at what the data is telling us now, I can’t tell you with certainty . . . that early May will be the right time for students, teachers and staff to gather again in classrooms.”
As COVID-19 spread in Iowa, schools across the state were closed for four weeks starting March 16. On April 2, Reynolds extended the closure to April 30. At that time, districts were required to submit plans for how they would provide education for the remainder of the closure. Iowa Department of Education Director Dr. Ann Lebo said Friday that districts will now be required to submit a “Return to Learn” plan by July 1.
“This plan may include options for summer school, enrichment activities or other opportunities designed to address disruptions to learning as a result of COVID-19,” Lebo said.
AGWSR Superintendent Erik Smith said he’s been watching the state's daily infection rates and he anticipated Friday’s announcement. He said the next step will be to continue providing opportunities for the continuous learning that began this week.
Tony Neumann, superintendent of the Iowa Falls and Alden school districts said he, too, had anticipated the announcement, and administrators in the two districts have spent the last two weeks planning for it.
IFA launched its distance learning on Monday with voluntary project-based “classes.” But, Neumann said, just because attendance isn’t being taken, grades aren’t being doled out, and the program looks different than normal classes, that doesn’t mean participation isn't important.
“I think it’s so important because now we’re looking at real world applications of what we’ve been trying to instill with learning before,” Neumann said. “It’s what can you do with what you know and how do you think critically and how do you show that you’re a self-starter and how do you collaborate with people.
“I can’t imagine trying to do math facts virtually with younger kids,” he said. “We just need to engage them – engaging their mind in a different way.”
Families that don’t have access to the internet, or those who prefer paper packets, can pick them up from the Iowa Falls-Alden lunch delivery truck during the week. At this week's first packet pickup on Tuesday, the truck ran out of several of the grade level packets and had to make more copies.
Dr. Adam Zellmer, superintendent of South Hardin schools, which also began distance learning this week, said Friday that he was still processing the implications of the governor’s announcement. A post on the district's Facebook page promised that “many more unprecedented and challenging decisions will have to be made in the days and weeks ahead by school districts throughout the state.” It asked for patience while the district determines its next steps, but guaranteed that educational learning opportunities and the food distribution program will continue through the end of the school year.
Iowa Falls and Alden schools have said all students will advance to the next grade next school year - they won't be held back because of coronavirus-related closures. That's a decision the state is leaving up to individual districts. And so is the decision about when the next school year will start. Reynolds also announced Friday that she is waiving the late start date for the 2020-21 school year, allowing schools to start earlier than Aug. 23. Both Neumann and Smith said that raises questions for them - about teacher contracts as well as state funding.
“The announced school closure clears up some of our questions,” Smith said, “but opens up a slew of other questions.”