Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds discussed the safety and logistics of returning to school during her Thursday press conference.
Reynolds said the fundamentals of the return-to-learn strategy includes the foundation of in-person learning in alignment with Iowa statute, requiring that 50 percent of instruction time occurs in the classroom and prioritizes core subjects.
"Schools have flexibility to meet that and other options if public health circumstances occur, making it an unattainable goal for them," Reynolds said. "Our plan also puts the decision on whether or not a student learns 100 percent through remote learning in the hands of parents."
Citing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Reynolds reinforced the importance of schools for infrastructure — including not only the environment and resources they provide for students, but also the income they provide for teachers and caregivers.
Reynolds said online learning, while an essential component of ensuring safety, "cannot make up for the critical role our schools play in the development of social and emotional skills that our children rely on."
She then referenced statistics reported by the CDC, which stated only 1.7 percent of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. between Feb. 12 and April 2 were in children.
"COVID-19 poses low risk to school-age children based on low transmission in the community, children are not driving the pandemic, and transmission from students to students and teachers have been low," Reynolds said. "With proper tools and resources, we can reopen safely, protecting students, teachers, staff and families."
Dr. Caitlin Pedati, state medical director and epidemiologist, took the podium to speak on COVID-19 transmission in children and the potential hygienic measures schools should take upon reopening, and said a safe return to school depends on Iowans' commitment to "the protective measures that we know can help slow the spread of this virus," such as face coverings and social distancing.
"It's important to know there is a plan to develop a plan for when we identify a case in a school setting, which we expect will happen," Pedati said.
Dr. Ann Lebo, director of the Iowa Department of Education, said her team met with "hundreds of school leaders" to answer questions about their return-to-learn plans.
"These plans give schools the flexibility to adjust their learning models as needed based on the fluid nature of circumstances in their schools and communities," Lebo said. "With the new public health guidance released today, schools have data-driven measures to help them respond to potential and confirmed cases of COVID-19 in their buildings and clear parameters outlining when it is appropriate to transition between face-to-face, hybrid and remote learning models for an entire building or district due to public health conditions in their communities."
Reynolds will be returning to her twice-weekly press conference schedule for the month of August.