Several months into the COVID-19 pandemic, news media — including the Telegraph Herald — began to take a look at what things about the unprecedented disruption presented an opportunity for the future. So much was learned through necessity during those early months, then discussion turned to considering which changes could be adopted as new protocols to make things better.
Quickly rising to the surface came the suggestion that unscheduled school closures could be a thing of the past.
Schools across the country had rapidly learned just how prepared (or not) they were for virtual learning. In Dubuque and around the tri-states, that was followed by plans to purchase laptops and tablets that could be distributed to students to offer virtual education when necessary.
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In Dubuque Community Schools, purchases ensured every student could have a device if school buildings were to close. Even in the absence of closure, the devices increased student access to technology in the classroom.
That was a positive pivot to come from the pandemic. Yet in Iowa, the ground gained has been left to dwindle.
While school districts in Wisconsin and Illinois were able to hold virtual classes this week instead of canceling school altogether, the same option wasn’t in play in Iowa.
In Iowa, the state law that allowed schools to temporarily transition to a hybrid or remote learning model expired in 2021. School district leaders still can choose to have students learn virtually, but those remote hours don’t count toward the annual minimum instructional hours required by state law. Thus, Iowa school districts typically just cancel school on bad-weather days.
That’s a missed opportunity. Iowa could be prepared for virtual days, and then schools wouldn’t have to see cancellations for inclement weather or even school threats. Educators always talk about the summer slide when students’ academic abilities slip. Could we have virtual refresher days in the summer?
Our neighboring states have figured this out. In East Dubuque, Ill., school officials filed a virtual learning plan with the regional office of education and can have up to five virtual learning days per school year — such as the two the district used in the past week.
Parents, politicians and educators alike understand the importance of in-person learning and the benefits for kids. We saw evidence of that need during the pandemic. But we’ve also seen the havoc a snowy or frigid winter can wreak on a school calendar. Parents and educators also understand the challenges of a school year that runs well into June.
A handful of virtual days in a year could provide an opportunity for learning to continue in the midst of an ice storm, and Iowa schools should have that option.
Editorials reflect the consensus of the Telegraph Herald Editorial Board.
Good luck with the teacher's union.
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