DES MOINES — Schools in Iowa — and all their activities — have been closed since mid-March. That will change soon.
During Thursday’s press conference, Gov. Kim Reynolds highlighted Wednesday’s announcement on various restrictions being lifted. “Perhaps the most anticipated of all was that school-sponsored activities will be permitted to resume,” she said. “Closing Iowa schools through the end of the normal school year was one of the toughest decisions I have made these last 11 weeks. For me, nothing signifies getting back to normal more than getting kids reconnected to their schools.”
In addition to the resumption of summer sports, approved activities include summer school, academic enrichment programs and activity-based camps, such as STEM and drama. However, the resumption of school activities comes with increased guidance.
“Schools may provide learning using online and other distance learning approaches, but they may now also choose to provide on-site learning opportunities in accordance with certain public health precautions as outlined in new guidance,” said Dr. Ann Lebo, director of the Iowa Department of Education.
“While schools can begin to offer summer learning opportunities and activities on June 1, there’s much planning and preparation to make that possible,” said Reynolds.
Lebo said additional mitigation measures include screening students and staff upon arrival, teaching and reinforcing proper hand-washing, developing and increasing cleaning and disinfection schedules, and distancing students and staff during instruction time by limiting group sizes, increasing spacing and limiting mixing between groups.
Those guidelines follow guidance recently released by the CDC. Other measures recommended by the CDC include the use of face coverings among all staff and encouraging the same use by students if feasible; closing communal spaces such as cafeterias — instead serving meals in classrooms — and playgrounds if possible or otherwise staggering their use and disinfecting between uses; staggering arrival and drop-off times or locations; and creating distance between children on school buses where possible.
Limited sharing is also highlighted in the CDC guidance. They recommend keeping each child’s belongings separated in individual containers or cubbies; ensuring adequate supplies “to minimize sharing of high-touch materials” such as art supplies; and avoiding sharing electronic devices, toys, books and other games or learning tools.
“It is important to note this guidance is intended to serve as a starting point for districts as we take our first steps to open for students,” Lebo said, adding that they are specific to “moments in time as we transition through phases in reopening based on virus activity.”
A flow chart provided by the CDC offers guidance on what schools should consider before reopening. Questions include whether reopening is consistent with applicable state and local orders, if the school is ready to protect children and employees at increased risk for severe illness and about the ability to screen students and employees upon arrival. It also highlights the promotion of hygiene practices and intensified cleaning and disinfecting as well as encouraging social distancing. The final section looks at ongoing monitoring.
“Whether a school chooses to provide in-person learning opportunities over the summer is a local decision that should be made based on the needs of the communities and in consultation with local public health officials,” Lebo said. “I am excited for what this summer will mean for our schools and families in Iowa.”