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Questions, answers and more questions

CCA and ICCSD respond to Dept. of Ed. guidance for reopening schools

DES MOINES– On Thursday, June 25, the Iowa Department of Education (DoE) released its Reopening Guidance for Schools, a two-page document created in partnership with the Iowa Department of Public Health, and to be used in conjunction with the “Return-to-Learn Support Document.” The document drew swift criticism for its bare bones content focusing on health and safety while discouraging temperature taking, and not recommending the mandatory use of masks or face coverings.
In response, the DoE issued a “Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)” document on Tuesday, June 30, to clarify the many concerns, which had been raised.
The FAQ stated “Many states created guidance that joined their Return-to-Learn planning with their reopening guidance. In Iowa we have purposely kept these separate because reopening guidance is based on current recommendations from IDPH intended to supplement Return-to-Learn guidelines (a 40-page document) and may change.”
While the DoE is not recommending the use of masks by staff and students, some districts, such as the Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD), have declared they will require face coverings in school, as well as at all events.
The DoE explained its decision by stating, “While cloth face coverings can reduce the spread of COVID-19 when worn properly and when other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain, the Department of Education, in collaboration with the Iowa Department of Public Health, does not recommend that districts and nonpublic schools require face coverings for all students and staff because of the considerable health and safety, legal and training implications for such a policy. Some individuals might not be able to use cloth face coverings due to a health or safety concern including but not limited to age, developmental disability, underlying condition, or mental health concern. Numerous considerations need to be examined at the local level based on individual staff and student needs.”
The FAQ document spells out nine separate considerations for the creation, by a school district, of a mask policy. Included are types of face coverings allowed, determining who is responsible for providing masks, ensuring they are sanitary, and considering that some masks are for temporary use only and should be discarded once moist or handled inappropriately. It also states districts need to determine what to do about students or staff who do not want to, or cannot (for a medical reason) wear a face covering. And, in the event of a medical condition, how the district will protect their privacy by not revealing that condition. Also, there is to be a training component for staff and students in proper use, removal, and disposal of masks and face coverings.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) stated “Cloth face coverings should be washed after each use. It is important to always remove face coverings correctly and wash your hands after handling or touching a used face covering.” The CDC also advises to wash hands before putting on a face covering, and to ensure it fits snugly against the sides of the face. And, once it’s on, don’t touch it, but if you do, to wash your hands again.
The DoE’s guidance does not require social distancing, which also has drawn criticism. The agency explanation stated, “The Department’s guidance encourages social distancing whenever possible but recognizes that each school building and setting is unique and there are times when maintaining or guaranteeing a distance of 6 feet from others in a school setting may not be possible (therapy, transportation, recess, class passing times).”
Temperature screening is also not mentioned, and the Department’s FAQ stated “one symptom is not necessarily indicative of communicable disease,” and noted symptoms might not appear for two-14 days after exposure. It also lists several factors, which could lead to unreliable readings such as the ambient temperature, improper calibration of the thermometer, improper usage and readings, and the use of fever-reducing medications prior to screening.
In the event of an outbreak of COVID-19, a school or school district has the legal authority (Senate File 2310) to close whether or not the Governor has declared a public health disaster. The school board, or its designee (the superintendent) is able to do so, and learning is able to continue via distance learning in order to meet the instructional time requirements (Iowa Code 279.10).
The Clear Creek Amana (CCA) Community School District anticipates opening for the 2020-2021 academic year on Monday, Aug. 24. However, plans for how that will be accomplished are still being hashed out. The district sent a letter to families from Superintendent Tim Kuehl on June 19 stating, “There are many unknowns about how the public health landscape will look in a few months, and your teachers and administrators are hard at work to plan for those unknowns.” A “CCA Parent Return to Learn Survey” showed 76.6 percent of parents want to see their child(ren) return to school. 22.4 percent said “maybe,” and 1 percent indicated “no.”
“We are preparing plans to continue in a face-to-face learning environment, but we’re also preparing for a school day that may include a mixture of kids in classrooms and kids learning at home. Our new school day might include shifts of students so we’re able to socially distance our teachers and students. We might also have a plan to support remote student learning if it is determined that due to safety, no one is able to access our buildings,” Kuehl wrote.
On Tuesday, June 23, Kuehl sent out a follow-up memo to families stating the district’s focus is two-fold: keeping students and staff safe, and educating students to the best of the district’s ability “given the challenging circumstances we find ourselves in.”
Kuehl responded to questions from families, including how to plan for daycare and transportation, in the absence of a firm plan from CCA. His answer was for families to have their own plans based on three scenarios: face-to-face learning in the schools, required “continuous learning (online)” at home, and a combination of both.
“We understand this makes it difficult for families to plan ahead but it would be best if you have a plan for each of the above scenarios. There are many variables at play and they could change from day to day.” Kuehl also wrote, “Unfortunately COVID-19 has changed how we operate and learning face-to-face one day, but closed next day, is a reality our learning plans and our home plans need to prepare for.” Kuehl said a plan would be communicated with the families in early August. “Our intention is to have kids in classrooms and adapt as necessary,” he wrote.
On Tuesday, June 30, the ICCSD released a 15-slide PowerPoint presentation, available on the district’s website (iowacityschools.org) detailing their “Return to Learn” plan. Like CCA, ICCSD plans to start the new year on Aug. 24 with a May 28, 2021, end date, and also plans to keep the length of the school day unchanged.
The district stated, “Students will not be dropped from classes automatically due to excessive absences. Attendance shall not be used as a criteria for grading in any course. Leniency should be given to students to accommodate their family needs and schedule.” And, as noted previously, “Students and staff will be required to wear a face covering (i.e. facemask or face shield) while attending school and participating in school activities (certain circumstances, such as medical conditions, may allow for an exception to this requirement).”
Procedures for frequent hand washing and posters reminding students and staff of the expectation will be posted throughout the district’s buildings. Also, social distancing (when possible) and instructional space arrangements (based on health and safety) will be utilized in determining classroom configurations. And, the district is planning on a combination of on-site delivery and “Grab & Go meal sites” for food distribution.
The plan stated guidelines for bus transportation are still being developed, as is a process for “if/when classrooms, schools or the district must transition between On-Site and Required Continuous Learning (at-home).” Plexiglas guards are being installed in all school main offices, and will be considered in other high-density areas where it is difficult for individuals to maintain 6 feet of distance.
The ICCSD laid out “Potential Hybrid Models” including a 90/10 On-site plan (which anticipates 10 percent or more of the district’s families being uncomfortable with sending their kids back to school), a 25/75 Off-Site Required Continuous Learning plan, and an A/B-50/50 model (splitting students into two groups by alphabet with 50 percent at school on “A” Days, and the other 50 percent on “B” Days). A PK-4 On-site daily/5-12 A/B Rotation plan is also a possibility as a way to reduce some classroom sizes across the District. An “option to participate in Required Continuous Learning (at home)” is available to the district’s families with these potential models.
The Clear Creek Amana Community School District’s next school board meeting is set for Wednesday, July 15, at the District’s Administration Offices on Highway 6 near Oxford starting at 6 p.m.
The Iowa City Community School District meets on Thursday, July 9, and Thursday, July 23, at 6 p.m. and could be conducted online via Zoom.

Pull Quote
“Our intention is to have kids in classrooms and adapt as necessary,” – CCA Superintendent Tim Kuehl