What will school in the fall look like? It’s a question Iowa families, educators and administrators are asking. But with only six weeks until classes begin, the answer is still unclear. Late last month, the state’s education and public health departments issued their strikingly brief back-to-school guidance that leaves school districts largely on their own in keeping students, teachers and staff safe.
Mike Beranek, president of the Iowa State Education Association, talks with Anne about challenges districts face, how the state guidance falls short — and ideas for a more robust back-to-school plan in the fall.
Some highlights from Mike Beranek (lightly edited for clarity):
On how the guidance is insufficient: “The guidance focuses on the exceptions — standards for health and safety are secondary. We educators understand the need to modify lessons and learning environments for students; we understand not every student can wear a face covering. But we’re a smart bunch of people — we can work around individual needs. But we should make sure the environment is safe for all students.”
On why ISEA recommends students wear masks: “If wearing a face mask is one of the best ways to prevent the virus from spreading, then it will help make the entire year successful for everyone. But if we continue this path, it could be very difficult for students to return this fall.”
On schools adapting to pandemic: “This is a great opportunity for us to reimagine what schools are — and to explore opportunities to make schools equitable for all of our students.”
Iowa rounds out the top 10 in the 2020 national KIDS COUNT® Data Book released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The 31st edition of the annual child well-being report compares and ranks the 50 states on 16 child and family well-being indicators in four separate domains.
Data Book highlights pre-Covid conditions
This year's Data Book release coincides with a pandemic and economic crisis — and unprecedented concern for the well-being of kids and families. Its rankings reflect data collected before Covid-19, making the report a benchmark of child and family well-being before the pandemic. Results have most likely worsened since then.
Iowa ranks 10th overall among the states this year, and our rankings in the three broad categories of child and family well-being where we can make year-to-year comparisons (economic, education and family and community factors) all dropped compared to last year’s metrics. This is concerning, even without Covid-19 thrown into the mix.
Different story on health
We can't make year-to-year comparison in the health category because of an indicator change. For years, Annie E. Casey Foundation wanted to include child and teen obesity in its annual report — but nationwide data wasn't available. Now it is, and the Casey Foundation has included the number and percent of children and teens (ages 10-17) who are overweight or obese. It replaces another indicator, teen drug and alcohol abuse.
Last year, the share of Iowa teens who abused alcohol or drugs was the same as the national average, 4 percent, but the share of children and teens who are overweight or obese is worse than the national average (35 percent vs. 31 percent).
All told, Iowa's performance in this year's Data Book across all four domains is cause for concern — and a call to action.
Read the full report or get the highlights via Iowa's profile. And keep an eye out for a special report later this year from the Annie E. Casey Foundation on child and family well-being during a global pandemic.
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