Taking their cues from frustrated Iowa parents eager to get their children back into the classroom, the state’s legislature — which is controlled by Republicans — passed a bill Thursday requiring all school districts in the state to reopen their doors for in-person learning no later than Feb. 15.
Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds signed the bill into law Friday, saying, “We now have the benefit of months of evidence that shows schools are the safest place for our kids to be,” adding, “Transmission among our students is low and spread isn’t occurring due to contact in schools.”
“It’s time to put local control into the hands of the parents — where it belongs,” the continued, “so that they can choose what is best for their children.”
Over the summer, Reynolds signed a proclamation requiring K-12 schools to meet for in-person instruction at least 50% of the time. Schools were allowed to apply for waivers to take their learning 100% virtual, if COVID-19 positivity rates were at 15% or more in their respective areas, according to the Des Moines Register.
The latest bill from the governor passed almost exclusively along party lines by a 29-18 vote in the Senate and a 59-39 vote in the House, KCCI-TV reported. Republicans overwhelmingly supported reopening schools for students while Democrats opposed it.
Most schools in the state, according to Iowa Public Radio, had already returned to full-time in-person classes, though some larger districts — like those in Urbandale, Iowa City, and Des Moines — had only resumed in-person classes part-time.
Phil Roeder, a spokesperson for the Des Moines school system, said the district — which currently offers students a “hybrid” model of both in-person and remote learning — plans to shift to giving kids the choice between attending 100% in-person or attend school completely online.
Reynolds’ push to get children back into their classrooms comes as an increasing amount of research suggests schools are very safe from COVID-19 outbreaks. Additionally, school closures have had dangerous and deadly consequences around the country, the latest of which comes from Clark County in Nevada, where 18 kids committed suicide in the nine months schools were shuttered.
This week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found there is “scant transmission” of the coronavirus in schools.
President Joe Biden, who has vowed to reopen schools within his first 100 days in office, is now contending with teachers’ unions whose members — in opposition to the science — are refusing to return to work.