North Iowa plans options for safe return to school

Joe Erickson smiles, wearing a blue shirt and tie.
Supt. Joe Erickson
By: 
Joe Erickson
Superintendent of North Iowa Community Schools

It is a rare day that goes by when educators aren’t asked about their thoughts on how school will begin in August. It has been a popular topic in the news, with varying opinions and seemingly unending reports about the newest studies related to COVID-19. Conflicting and frequently changing guidelines from local, state, and federal levels have made planning tremendously challenging.

There have been some positive steps that are leading to better decision making about how to reenter the school system. The baseball and softball teams have been able to practice and compete; giving insight to what preventative strategies may look like this fall. Many students, parents, and staff members completed surveys at the start of June to help understand what went well in the spring and gave ideas to consider in the fall. While each school district is unique, much communication takes place with other districts to see what commonalities would best help educate students at North Iowa.

School board members, administrators, teachers and parents met in late June to outline a framework that would allow for flexibility for the 2020-21 school year. The surveys’ data was reviewed, and below are some of the highlights:

  • All groups are hoping students will be able to attend in person classes.
  • Great appreciation was expressed for the work of the teaching staff and kitchen staff who provided meals.
  • Having the facilities cleaned and sanitized will be vital for the safety of all.

Some structural changes will also be implemented as students return.

  • Meals will likely be altered to some degree to allow for greater social distancing.
  • Water fountains will be converted to refill stations, and students will be asked to use personal refillable drinking bottles.
  • Parents and visitors will not be allowed to enter school during the day.
  • Daily cleaning of the school and vehicles will take place to sanitize and disinfect.

One change that has been required by legislation is that all learning formats will be a requirement at all grade levels. Last spring, online learning was optional for grades PK-8th at North Iowa. Under the new legislation, participation is required. Grades will be given, and student work will affect grade point averages.

To prepare for a wide variety of situations, three core plans have been outlined by the committee. The goal of each plan is not to eliminate all risk of the spread of COVID-19 but to significantly reduce risk and still provide the best educational experience possible. The plans cover a range of options, including having all students physically attending school as well as no students being able to attend school face-to-face in our buildings.

Scenario 1: All students attend school.

- Students attend school and receive instruction face to face with limited adjustments to normal schedule and routines.

Scenario 2: Students’ time at school is reduced, and interaction with others is limited.

- Students may be split into smaller groups to allow for greater social distancing and to reduce the risk of spread. The smaller groups may come to school one or more days during the week, but some content will be provided through online formats on days that students are not in school.

Scenario 3: Students receive all instruction in an online format, with no attendance at school.

- All content will be provided online in asynchronous formats with options of real time supports on a case by case basis.

Within scenario 1 and 2 are additional options that will be considered based upon the most up to date information and input from the Iowa Department of Public Health. Some additional precautions being considered are listed below:

  1. Masks may be required at certain times of the day.
  2. Whether or not students move to different classrooms throughout the day.
  3. Which manipulatives, lab materials, or toys will be available.

Considerations may also be made on a school by school basis rather than district wide. Needs and modifications at the elementary level may be different than those needed at the middle and high school levels. It is likely that the school will be utilizing more than one of the scenarios during the 2020-21 school year. At all times, needs of the students will be the highest priority.

Every effort will be made to create safe learning environments with the understanding that not everyone will agree on the definition of a safe environment. To account for this, the attendance policy will be suspended for the 2020-21 school year. In addition, students who may be isolated voluntarily or under quarantine will be able to receive asynchronous content provided by the teachers, even if other students are receiving instruction face-to-face. All students will have access to a quality education.

 

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