The following editorial was published in the Quad-City Times on Aug. 24:
About half a million students in Iowa are heading back to school this week, and many of their parents are worried sick.
The state has shown its metrics for returning to classrooms are arbitrary. It’s misled the public about errors in its system for tracking COVID-19. And now the state’s teachers union is suing to block the governor from forcing students back into schools.
State leaders are losing the public’s trust.
As this newspaper reported last week, Iowa’s per-capita cases are now the highest in the Midwest. More than 1,000 Iowans have died of COVID-19.
On Wednesday, the public learned the state’s system for tracking coronavirus cases turns out to have reported flawed data – information leaders used to determine whether it’s safe to return to school. The state’s medical director knew of the flaws two weeks ago but didn’t bother to say anything until after a health care worker in Iowa City noticed the errors, got a state worker to admit to the errors in an email, and shared the correspondence with reporters.
Meanwhile, medical experts from across the state, including the University of Iowa, say Gov. Kim Reynolds is unnecessarily putting students and teachers in jeopardy by requiring at least 50% in-class learning. That’s unless 15% of the coronavirus tests in a district are positive over the prior 14 days – a figure three times higher than what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say is safe; the surgeon general recommends 10%.
Locally, public health leaders issued a new round of stark warnings. “COVID-19 is spreading in our community, and our schools will not be immune,” Ed Rivers, director of the Scott County Health Department, said Thursday.
In the Quad-Cities, we’ve already seen how quickly COVID-19 can spread when people are in close quarters like nursing homes, jails and factories. Who is to think school environments, no matter the precautions taken, will be any different?
We think districts and parents would be much better served if they had more flexibility to determine what’s right for local kids. Illinois, for example, has given its districts more freedoms, and is issuing better guidance backed by science and recommendations from health experts.
Even then, the virus has found its way into schools. Geneseo students were sent home Monday after a student and teacher tested positive. Rockridge postponed the start to its schoolyear after 13 staff members reported isolating at home and four others tested positive.
Districts ought to have the freedoms to make these kinds of decisions.
The State of Iowa is overstepping. These are unprecedented times. The state is not making decisions based on good science, it’s not been transparent with the public, and it’s refusing to listen to its teachers.