Kim Reynolds said that Iowa schools that move to remote learning without state approval are breaking the law during her news conference on Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2020.
Des Moines Register
School districts that opt for 100% online learning may not get to play sports this fall.
The Iowa Department of Education announced Friday evening that, should a school district or nonpublic school move to 100% online or remote learning, all “in-person activities and practices would need to be suspended during the period of 100% remote learning.”
“Offering in-person activities would be incompatible with the goal of mitigating higher rates of virus transmission,” the department continued. “Extracurricular activities could still be conducted virtually.”
That includes sports sponsored through the Iowa High School Athletic Association and the Iowa Girls’ High School Athletic Union, as well as activities sanctioned through the Iowa High School Music Association and the Iowa High School Speech Association.
How this will be enforced remains unclear. This statement was made in conjunction with the department’s return to learn guidance released last month. According to Iowa Code section 256.9A, Iowa Department of Education guidance should be viewed as advisory unless specifically authorized by state statute.
A spokesperson from Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds’ office directed the Register to the Department of Education. Multiple attempts to reach the Iowa Department of Education seeking clarity were not immediately returned.
Practices for all fall high school sports — football, volleyball, cross country, girls’ swimming, and Class 4A boys’ golf — began this past week. Competitions for boys’ golf began Thursday. The rest will begin competitions the week of Aug. 24.
“I think it would be tragic if we weren’t allowed to play,” Des Moines Roosevelt football coach Mitchell Moore said. “Our kids don’t deserve this.”
Last month, Reynolds ordered schools to hold at least 50% of classes in-person. After both Urbandale and Waukee said they would defy the mandate, Reynolds said districts who ignore her order would not receive credit for those days of instruction and that school administrators could face licensure discipline.
More: ‘We’re in uncharted territory’: Iowa districts, state wrestle over power to set school reopening plans
Des Moines Public Schools will vote Monday on possibly starting the 2020-21 school year with “fully virtual instruction,” then transition to in-person learning once conditions from the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic improve. The proposal, recommended by DMPS Superintendent Tom Ahart, would violate Reynolds’ order.
“The biggest thing for our school district right now is to finalize our return to learn plan,” Phil Roeder, the DMPS communications director, told the Register, “because that affects every student, not just those in activities.
“But it seems like the governor wants to use high school kids as pawns in this political agenda that she has with forcing people back into school buildings.”
Many school districts around the state have opted for hybrid models to meet Reynolds’ 50% mandate. Should a family decide to choose 100% online learning, the school district can decide on the activity eligibility of that student, per the Department of Education.
“A district may, at their discretion, determine that a request to participate in in-person extracurricular activities is inconsistent with the claim that the student could not attend school in-person,” the department said.
The IHSAA and the IGHSAU both released guidance for all fall sports, but noted any “guidelines, mandates, requirements, and/or orders” from federal, local or county government entities, health departments, and school districts should take precedence.
“If (West Des Moines) Valley is able to play on Aug. 28, I sure hope the Roughriders are going to be there to play as the visiting team,” said Moore, Roosevelt’s football coach. “It would be really, really frustrating for everybody involved if we weren’t.”
Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.
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