DES MOINES — The Iowa City public school district and a statewide public educators union is suing Gov. Kim Reynolds’ administration over a state requirement that schools conduct a majority of instruction in-person during the upcoming school year amid the new coronavirus pandemic.
The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in Johnson County.
Citing a new law passed earlier this year, Reynolds’ administration recently issued the requirement after some districts — including Iowa City’s and the state’s largest, in Des Moines — announced their plans to start the 2020-2021 school year with all online instruction.
The lawsuit will argue that the governor has exceeded her authority and that local school boards have the primary authority over their education plans, and that the governor’s order violates her constitutional duty to protect the health and welfare of Iowa citizens.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the critically important right and need of local authorities and locally elected officials like school boards to do what is right for their communities,” Brady Schutt, an Iowa City teacher and president of the Iowa City Education Association, said Wednesday during an online news conference.
Jay Hammond, general counsel for the Iowa State Education Association, said the group will ask the judge for a temporary injunction in order to halt enforcement of the administration’s requirement while the matter is settled in court.
Hammond said the group will argue that the ultimate authority to design educational plans during the pandemic lies with school boards, and that the governor has exceeded her authority in establishing a statewide minimum amount for in-person learning. The group also will argue the governor has violated her responsibility under the Iowa Constitution, which charges government with operating for “the protection, security, and benefit of the people.”
Reynolds’ administration has pointed to Senate File 2310 legis.iowa.gov/legislation/BillBook?ga=88&ba=sf2310, passed this spring after state lawmakers resumed their work following a pandemic-related break. One section of the bill reads that unless authorized by the governor, a school district “shall not take action to provide instruction primarily through remote-learning opportunities.”
Reynolds’ administration has determined that means at least half of instruction must be completed in-person. Hammond said the group will ask the court to define “primarily” in that clause.
“The governor has built a house of cards on one word: ‘primarily,’” Hammond said. “We’re going to take that house of cards to a judge and see what a judge decides.”
The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday. Reynolds is expected to hold her regular news conference on Thursday in Des Moines.
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