The Iowa State Education Association (ISEA) on Wednesday filed a lawsuit against Gov. Kim Reynolds, seeking to block the enforcement of a mandate requiring schools to hold at least 50 percent of classes in person this fall.
The ISEA, which represents over 34,000 employees in Iowa’s public school systems, argued in the court filing (pdf) that the Republican governor doesn’t have the authority to override some districts’ plans to rely primarily on remote learning due to the ongoing pandemic.
“What we’re asking the court to determine is that ultimate authority to determine the content and to effectuate the content of the plan to return to school lies with the individual school board of every school board across the state of Iowa,” said ISEA General Council Jay Hammond during a press conference, stressing that the union “has no desire to keep schools closed” as long as “a return to those schools is safe.”
The Iowa City Community School District, one of the largest public school systems in the state, joined the ISEA’s lawsuit, although it has decided to comply with the 50 percent in-person classes requirement.
“We strongly believe the COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the critically important right and need of local authorities and locally elected officials like our school boards to do what is right for the health and safety of their community,” said Brady Shutt, president of the Iowa City Education Association, a local ISEA affiliate. “Late in the game proclamations and guidance like we have seen from the state of Iowa have the effect of imposing a one size fits all approach at the very moments when local decision-making should be protected and prioritized.”
According to the July 17 proclamation, schools must make sure students spend at least half of their learning time in classrooms. They may only shift to primarily remote learning under specific circumstances, including when parents decide it’s the best option for their family, when Iowa’s education and health departments shut down entire schools due to public health concerns, or when severe weather forces a school to close.
Iowa’s education department officials announced last week that students enrolled in schools that provide excursively online learning may not be permitted to play sports or participate in other activities, saying that would defeat the purpose of shifting classes online.
“Offering in-person activities would be incompatible with the goal of mitigating higher rates of virus transmission,” an Aug. 14 guidance (pdf) reads. “Extracurricular activities could still be conducted virtually.”