All Iowa students now have option to choose full-time, in-person learning

February 25, 2021

Iowa is the first state in the Midwest to require local school districts to offer full-time, in-person learning as an option to families. With the passage of SF 160, which took effect in mid-February, Iowa joined a handful of other U.S. states (Arkansas, Florida and Texas) with such a mandate in place, according to Education Week.

This school year, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, most states have left the question of remote vs. in-person learning to the discretion of local school districts. In Iowa, however, Gov. Kim Reynolds urged legislators to act quickly this session. “We can’t wait any longer,” she said. “Our kids can’t wait any longer.” With the signing of SF 160, only a COVID-19 public health emergency issued by the governor would waive schools from the in-person requirement.

Colored pencils and glasses sit on a book and notebook in front of a blackboard.

In Wisconsin, under a bill proposed early in 2021 (AB 1, as originally introduced), a two-thirds vote of school boards would be required to close buildings to in-person instruction for more than 14 days. Minnesota’s SF 2 would strip the governor of the authority to close K-12 schools due to a peacetime emergency.

According to Columbia University’s U.S. School Closure & Distance Learning Database, 86.7 percent of the nation’s K-12 schools were “closed or mostly closed” as of April 2020, often the result of governors’ emergency orders. That number had fallen to 37.1 percent by October 2020, with Indiana and North Dakota among the states with the fewest closures. “[U.S. school] closures are more common in schools with lower third-grade math scores and higher shares of students who experience homelessness, are of limited English proficiency, are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, live in single-parent families, or are racial/ethnic minorities,” Columbia University researchers noted in an analysis of their findings from the database.