More than 17 percent of Iowa’s K-12 teachers are 55 or older and Governor Kim Reynolds today said state officials realize the health concerns of teachers are an issue as schools reopen for classes.
“I believe that school districts and teachers know without hesitation that our kids need to be in the classroom, ” Reynolds said during her weekly news conference. “You know, we are doing them a disservice by not opening these schools back up and getting them to school, but we have to be flexible, we have to think outside the box and we have to look at different alternatives.”
If full-time teachers fall ill or their classroom is quarantined due to a positive COVID-19 test, Reynolds acknowledged the majority of the state’s substitute teachers are older, semi-retired — and perhaps reluctant to teach during the pandemic.
“We’re going to work with the educators, we’re going to work with the school districts to make sure they’ve got the PPE, make sure that they have the flexibility and workforce is a big component of that,” Reynolds said, “so right now we’re looking at different options that we can help provide them with the workforce that they need to just be ready for whatever, you know, happens as we kind of move through the next stage of opening our schools back up.”
Reynolds said she’ll make an announcement later this week on the topic, but the governor said there is good data that may help alleviate concerns.
“Kids are less likely to get it, you know they are less like to spread (the virus),” Reynolds said. “…But we know, also, that data says if you’re part of a certain age group, an older population, and you have underlying conditions — you are the ones that are most impacted by COVID and we need to take that into account when we’re putting the infrastructure in place.”
Reynolds said the goal should be “to get everybody back to school,” but she also said it’s appropriate to give parents the option of having their child take all of their classes online if the child or someone in the household has underlying health conditions that make them vulnerable to the virus.
“There is not an educator in Iowa who is not concerned about their students and who does not want to see them back at school. That’s not the issue,” Iowa State Education Association president Mike Beranek said in a written statement. “The issue is that students put their trust in us to ensure they are safe and well cared for when they are in our schools. We will not let them down. We will not knowingly place them in harm’s way by asking them to come into an environment that is not safe.”
The teachers’ union is seeking a statewide mandate that staff and students wear face coverings. It’s also calling for social distancing inside buildings and smaller class sizes.
(This post was updated at 3:45 p.m. with additional information.)