Iowa has been getting attention as one of the states not officially ordering schools closed during coronavirus. The governor limited it to a recommendation that they close for four weeks, issued mid-March. Here is an article describing it as a “recommendation,” and here is the governor’s own two-minute video statement doing the same.

But things have apparently changed in the past several days. Bear with me for a minute as I run through it.

The governor issued another proclamation last Thursday, April 2. In the press conference, she says that “I am also ordering that school closures are extended through April 30th.”

One problem: it’s confusing the way the governor states it, because it sounds like this simply a continuation of an already existing “order”.

The relevant text of the proclamation also does not clear it up, in my view:

SECTION ONE. Pursuant to Iowa Code § 135.144 (13), and in conjunction with the Iowa Department of Public Health and the Iowa Department of Education, unless otherwise modified by subsequent proclamation, I hereby order that all public schools and nonpublic schools, as defined in Iowa Code § 280.2, shall remain closed until and including April 30, 2020, to prevent and control the transmission of COVID-19.

Again, sounds like a continuation of an existing situation (“shall remain closed”) – but I don’t see where the initial “recommendation” became an “order.”

On the other hand, the governor’s office press release accompanying the proclamation, does make it sound more like a “fresh” act: “The proclamation orders the closure of schools, waiving time requirements as long as school districts put in place a continuous learning plan until April 30th.”

Finally, other media support that there has been no official “order” up until this proclamation – for example, the Des Moines Register reported this in an article dated March 31, just two days prior to this latest proclamation:

All of Iowa’s K-12 schools voluntarily closed after Reynolds on March 15 recommended a four-week shutdown to stem the spread of COVID-19. Iowa is one of three states without a statewide order closing schools.

Which brings us to the meat of this post.

Area news station KTVO headlines an article today that the Amish have been going against “orders” from the Governor: “Amish schools still meeting for class despite Governor’s orders.”

The station shot footage on Thursday, April 2, and reported that the Amish were continuing to hold school as of that day.

That’s the same day the governor issued the new proclamation described above – at her scheduled 2:30pm press conference.

But the Amish in question – of the Bloomfield community (Davis County) – have apparently been very careful to follow existing requirements for holding school.

That’s according to the County Attorney, who was contacted by KTVO:

We called up Davis County Attorney Rick Lynch to ask him why.

Lynch was aware that these schools in the Old Amish community were still opening doors to students.

“It’s my understanding that the Old Order Amish are following the rules of Gov. Reynolds, in that they are sending their younger kids in their classes to school half a day in the mornings, with the teacher, with less than 10 people together at one time,” Lynch said.

The younger class goes home at noon and they clean up the facilities, or whatever, where they are, to hold the school. Then in the afternoon the older children come in with the teacher and have no more than ten in one period at the same time.

So the Amish have essentially been holding two separate school sessions daily, in order to keep the number of people present in the room below 10.

They hold school once in the morning. Then they clean up and do it again for another group.

It sounds like up until very recently, the Amish have been taking pains to make sure they adhere to the actual order from the governor which would seem to apply here – the one limiting gatherings to 10 or less.

Here’s the video report. If you can’t view it below, you’ll find it here.

Why this report of Amish violating orders?

So – I’m not sure why KTVO created this report, because:

a) I can’t find evidence that any order – in other words, more than just a “recommendation” – was made public before the April 2 official press conference (the day KTVO went to the school and shot the video above)

– and –

b) because the governor’s press conference on Thursday announcing the new order took place starting at 2:30 pm – well into the already-ongoing school day.

To me, it looks like the Amish here have been diligently following the guidelines in place up until this recent change.

What it also looks like, is that the news station saw this as an opportunity for a story.

It appears they are attempting to either:

a) portray the Amish as violating an order when no such order had yet been made public

– or –

b) portray them violating an order that had literally just been announced in the middle, or end, of that same school day

The big problem for me is the headline.

It feels like they are trying to confuse us into thinking that the Amish were violating orders when no such orders yet existed – and meanwhile the Amish were being careful to adhere to the actual rules in place.

And then they are using a more obscure and unclear word – “directive” – to blur the meaning. They repeat that word several times in the body of the reporting and the video. It makes it sound like the Amish have been habitually violating an order for a long time now.

Am I being too cynical about this station’s report?

Should I give them the benefit of the doubt?

Is this just sloppy, or more than that?

Supporting the “sloppy” argument, they do have a factual error in the caption on their video:

A student approaches an Old Order Amish schoolhouse Thursday, April 5, 2020. (KTVO)

This most recent Thursday was April 2, not April 5.

April 5 was yesterday, in other words, Sunday.

Image: KTVO report

So which is it

Maybe KTVO were confused in their reporting, given the unclear reporting/communication about this around the governor’s statements, which I have described above.

Still, it seems a news station would be more careful to be clear and precise in their reporting when the reporting in question hinges on the meaning of words with related, but importantly, different meanings, in this case the words “recommendations,” “directives,” and “orders.”

Or maybe the Amish were somehow openly flouting the new proclamation last Thursday – the same day when KTVO was creating their video, and the governor was making her school closure announcement.

But given the reported careful adherence of the Amish to holding school while respecting the existing 10-person gathering limit order, I’m more inclined to give the Amish the benefit of the doubt here, than I am this news station.

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