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Iowa judge hopes to rule on governor’s in-person school mandate next week

Associated Press

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Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds delivers her Condition of the State address before a joint session of the Iowa Legislature, Jan. 15, 2019, at the Statehouse in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — A judge said Thursday she’ll try to rule next week on whether to block Gov. Kim Reynolds’ mandate that schools return to in-person learning despite a raging coronavirus pandemic.

Judge Mary Chicchelly heard arguments in a lawsuit brought by the Iowa City school district and the Iowa State Education Association, a teachers’ union. She said that, barring “unforeseen circumstances,” she would issue a written ruling next week.

Lawyers for the Iowa City district and the union asked her to impose a temporary injunction that would allow local school boards, not the state, to decide when it’s safe to reopen classrooms to students and teachers.

Many school districts have already started or resume classes Tuesday in Iowa, where the virus is spreading faster than almost any other state.

Under the governor’s order, schools generally must provide at least 50 percent in-person learning. The state can grant waivers for schools to move to remote learning only if the local coronavirus testing positivity rate reaches 15% over a two-week period — a threshold far higher than what most public health experts recommend.

Solicitor General Jeff Thompson defended the governor’s proclamation and said the plaintiffs had not met their “heavy burden” for an injunction. He argued that Iowa’s tradition of local control does not extend to public education.

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