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A plan, for now

CCA board approves full return for PK-8, and 50/50 for high school
The parking lot at the Clear Creek Amana High School in Tiffin was empty on Wednesday, April 1, as schools remained closed due to the COVID-19 epidemic. Gov. Kim Reynolds ordered schools to remain closed through Thursday, April 30, and later extended the closure to the remainder of the school year. Under a Return to Learn plan approved by the CCA school board, the district will reopen on Aug. 24 with high school students split into morning and afternoon groups. (file photo by Chris Umscheid)

TIFFIN– The Clear Creek Amana (CCA) School Board of Education approved a Return to Learn (RTL) plan in a special meeting Wednesday, July 29, at the high school in Tiffin.
The plan, “Plan 2” of four options considered, calls for a full return of pre-kindergarten (PK) through eighth-grade students, and a 50/50 return for the high school with students broken into morning and afternoon sessions.
Superintendent Tim Kuehl recommended the board approve Plan 2 with a modification to require masks and/or face shields in the buildings, and to allow students to participate in extracurricular activities such as sports unless their governing body (the Iowa High School Athletic Association, for example) or the governor cancels them as had happened with the spring season.
Associate Superintendent Matt Leeman briefly reviewed the four options, which are available in full on the district’s website, www.ccaschools.org, for the board and those watching the meeting live on YouTube (www.youtube.com). The board had previously discussed and debated the plans during a Monday, July 27, work session.
Between 65 and 70 percent of students are anticipated to return for PK-eighth graders and a modified “50/50” schedule for the high school students based on the results of surveys to families. Leeman noted the a.m. and p.m. groupings, coupled with at-home learning, meets the governor’s requirements for at least 50 percent in-person instruction.
Leeman said a major reason for the morning and afternoon split at the high school is the difficulty in creating “cohorts” at those grade levels. A cohort is a group of students who will stay together all day every day. And, having the split means fewer students will be in the building at any given time. Students involved in extracurricular activities will be in the p.m. group, he said, and CCA students taking Kirkwood Community College classes will have their schedule adjusted to accommodate that as well. The morning and afternoon split also has expectations in place for remote learning on asynchronous, or non-campus, day.
As would be expected, breakfast and lunch periods are now more challenging due to social distancing requirements. A “grab and go” breakfast will be available to all grade levels. Also included are plans for some students to eat in their classrooms, while teachers will still have their meal breaks by working with associates and fellow teachers. With distancing measures, cafeterias can be used as well, and lunch may well look different from building to building as putting 6 feet of space between students is maintained during the meal period (when masks would necessarily be removed).
Leeman told the board Middle School Principal Brad Fox is looking at a three-hour lunch period with multiple groups of 60 students cycling through. Fox is also going to encourage students who may be taking their lunch late in the morning to bring a snack for the afternoon. At the high school, tables will be limited to three-to-six students maximum, again striving for 6 feet of separation. The atrium and possibly even the gym may also be utilized for lunch periods, along with any other available spaces, said Leeman. In addition, grab and go meals will be available for the high school students arriving or leaving with the morning and afternoon split.
Health and safety are at the forefront of the planning, with hand sanitizers to be used entering and exiting rooms, washing hands before lunch, and cleaning desks/tables between classes. Locker usage will look different this year with high school students expected to keep everything in a backpack (no lockers). Middle school students will also likely be living out of their backpacks, at least at first, with the potential for lockers being assigned by cohorts. At the elementary levels, lockers could be spaced out, or schedules staggered to maintain distancing (at least 3 feet with masks).
In case of another shutdown, the district is going to a 1:1 technology program for all students, with students expected to take their iPad (PK-second grade) or Chromebook (all other grades) home daily in case a sudden transition to remote learning becomes a necessity. It also wipes out the need for “snow days” as learning can continue while the snow flies.
One troubling aspect the district is facing however, is the potential (based on surveys) for a shortage of staff if all members with pre-existing conditions do not return. Gov. Reynolds has loosened the requirements for people to become credentialed as substitute teachers, and also has adjusted the length of time a substitute may teach a particular group of students. But, a shortage of willing and able substitute teachers is also a possibility. Teachers across the state have expressed disdain for Reynolds’ insistence on returning staff and students to the classroom.
The potential for a late start of up to three weeks exists, which would allow for the district to see what happens in other districts, and in case further guideline changes are issued by the state. The Iowa City Community School District is contemplating moving its start date back by two weeks, and consequently finishing two weeks later in June. If CCA held off opening for three weeks, June 17, 2021, would be the last day of school as the state is maintaining the 180 days or 1,080 hours of instruction requirements.
Board member Nikki Knapp, a health and safety professional by trade, said she believes in-person education is the best for all age groups, with many leading pediatricians in agreement. However, she pointed out they call for in-person learning only where COVID-19 infection rates are “under control,” and noted Johnson County has recently seen great spikes in infections, and is not under control. Knapp advocated for the three-week delay while noting she will support the plan because it is the option chosen by the district administration.
“From a risk standpoint, we’re never going to get to zero, I get that, but where we are in the U.S., in Iowa, compared to the rest of the states around us, that have taken a lot of precautions, that have restricted themselves… we have not,” Knapp said. “So, I’m not comfortable going back on Aug. 24, regardless of which plan.”
Board member Bob Broghammer, who was favoring Plan 1 (full return as close to a normal school year as possible with mitigation factors in-place) said, “I’m a firm believer in family choice. We’re giving them the choice. It should be the family’s choice (to send their student back to school or not).” Board member Eileen Schmidt, who was “all-in” for Plan 2 echoed Broghammer saying, “Parents and teachers have a choice… want to send them? Send them. Don’t? Virtual learning. Whatever plan we lay out, there is a choice, and they have to decide.”
Plan 2 passed on a 3-2 voice vote, and detailed information, and another survey (to determine exactly how many students and staff can be expected to return) were to go out immediately. Families who are uncomfortable with sending their children back to school can request online learning.
On Thursday, July 30, Reynolds held a press conference to release new guidelines in the event a student or staff member were to test positive for the virus, if there is a substantial spread in the classroom, and the process for moving classrooms and buildings to online instruction. Reynolds also reiterated her proclamation earlier this month calling for in-person learning of at least 50 percent in any RTL plan. She acknowledged online learning as an “essential component,” but noted the critical role schools have when it comes to developing emotional and social skills. The governor also cited recent comments by United States Surgeon General Jerome Adams where he said schools in communities with a positive COVID-19 rate of less than 10 percent should reopen. She added 93 of Iowa’s 99 counties meet this definition over a 14-day average.
A press release put out by the governor’s office quoted Reynolds as saying, “Children are not driving the pandemic, and transmission from students to students and teachers has been low. With proper resources, we can reopen safely protecting students, teachers, staff and families.
“Where we’re going to have problems,” Reynolds said, “is from educator to educator. That’s where the spread is more likely to occur.”
Reynolds’ latest guidelines specify if a school reaches 10 percent absence for students in in-person learning, and the average county positivity rate over a 14-day period is between 15-20 percent, then a school district can request to close an entire building, or the district itself, for up to 14 days. However, only the state department of education and department of public health can provide temporary authorization to move to 100 percent online or remote learning.
Also on July 30, the Iowa State Education Association (ISEA) blasted Reynolds’ update. WHO radio in Des Moines reported the ISEA said the 15-20 percent requirement before a school can ask to close could mean severe consequences for people before action is taken. WHO also said the ISEA is calling for a delay in opening, saying the pandemic must be under control in communities first, protections must be in place to keep the virus under control and plans need to be in place to ensure ongoing learning for all students.
During the board’s discussion, Kuehl said, “This is not a fun decision. People say look at the science, look at the data. We have data that shows clearly that we shouldn’t be (reopening to in-person education on Aug. 24), we have data that shows we should be. We’re trying to make the best decisions we can.”

PULL QUOTES
“People say look at the science, look at the data. We have data that shows clearly that we shouldn’t be (reopening to in-person education on August 24), we have data that shows we should be.” – CCA Superintendent Tim Kuehl

“I’m a firm believer in family choice. We’re giving them the choice. It should be the family’s choice (to send their student back to school or not).” – Board member Bob Broghammer

“Parents and teachers have a choice…want to send them? Send them. Don’t? Virtual learning. Whatever plan we lay out, there is a choice, and they have to decide.” – Board member Eileen Schmidt