Responding to frustration from Iowa parents, the Republican-dominated Legislature in Iowa passed a measure Thursday that would require all school districts in the state to reopen by no later than Feb. 15.
Gov. Kim Reynolds (R), who made the legislation the top priority of the 2021 legislative session, promptly signed the bill, saying, "It's time to put local control into the hands of the parents where it belongs. So that they can choose what is best for their children."
All Iowa schools have offered at least partial in-person learning since last summer, when Reynolds signed a proclamation mandating that school districts must be open for in-person learning at least 50% of the time. Any school that wanted to offer less than 50% in-person learning was required to apply for a waiver from the state Department of Education and were permitted to apply only if the COVID-19 positivity rate in their area was over 15%. Only one school district in the state is currently operating under such a waiver.
Most schools in the state were operating with 100% in-person learning prior to the law's passage, with the exception of some of the larger districts like Des Moines, Urbandale, and Iowa City. Those districts have indicated that they will comply with the new law, but will likely drop their "hybrid" learning models and require students to choose either full-time in-person learning, or full-time remote learning.
The vote in the Iowa Legislature fell largely along party lines, with Republicans overwhelmingly supporting the bill, and Democrats overwhelmingly opposing it. Democrats attempted to add a number of amendments to weaken the bill or provide waivers for recalcitrant districts, but those efforts were defeated by the Republican majorities.
Nationwide, leaders of both political parties — including notable lockdown proponents like California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D) — have followed the science and attempted to encourage school districts to reopen for in-person learning as soon as possible. However, many Democratic politicians have been cowed into opposing measures like the new Iowa law by teachers' unions, which are often major donors to their campaigns.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has stated that in-person learning in schools has been linked to only a very scant amount of spread of the coronavirus pandemic, and has strongly encouraged schools to reopen for in-person learning.