Schools plan to resume class, but that could change

April 13 reopening date written in chalk

BY JAMIE KNAPP

Schools plan to resume class in April, but that could change in the next five minutes.

Since Governor Kim Reynolds announced on March 15 that all schools in Iowa would close for at least four weeks, confusion ensued. Questions arose from how to handle senior graduation to keeping students occupied during an undefined interim.

 Area superintendents say they’re trying to address them by an order of immediacy. State departments of public health and education change their recommendations to schools multiple times per day, hence, their plans change.

“What we believe to be true at noon might no longer be true by 5 p.m. and people are angry that our answers keep changing,” Storm Lake Superintendent Stacey Cole said. “But our answers change as we get new information, and we need people to understand that we aren’t lying to them. We are simply trying to keep up with the massive amount of information that comes at us at a rapidly-changing pace.”

There are questions, however, pertaining to the impact the shortened school year will have on students, such as students having to make up missed school time.

“The governor has announced that she’s waiving the time that is missed right now,” Cole said. “We will likely return on April 13 if allowed, so the only changes to our calendar would be having school on April 13 and potentially also having school in lieu of professional development in May. Those decisions have not been made yet.”

Online schooling, or teaching kids on computers, has never been an option, she said. Still, the district in partnership with Long Lines is encouraging low-income students borrow free  Chromebooks in the interim to keep themselves occupied. Long Lines also offered free broadband to local students.

“The State of Iowa does not allow schools to teach virtually unless you are one of the two approved districts that offer online instruction,” Cole said. “Also, once a school requires instruction through online means, you have to ensure that you can serve all kids equitably with any special needs they have (needs for access due to poverty, ELL needs, specific reading support through Title I, any special education support). Since we are unable to ensure that we can offer all of the differentiation that our students need, we will not be requiring any online school.”

Storm Lake is operating as though its doors will open April 13, says Chief Operating Officer Jeff Tollefson. It’s paying non-certified staff for four weeks, mainly as a retention measure, Cole told the school board last week. Tollefson said the district hasn’t set a plan for non-certified staff if the rest of the semester’s cancelled.

But what happens in the event the Department of Public Health imposes more strictures — say, shelter in place? What happens if the state cancels the remainder of the school year?

“We assume that kids move to the next grade,” Cole said. “At this point, that’s our best prediction. There isn’t guidance on this to this point.”

Kids who do schoolwork at home during the current shutdown do not get credit for it from their respective school.

“There are rules that don’t allow a school to give grades during a time that the school is closed,” Cole said. “The Department of Ed is telling us that there will be a meeting for superintendents across the state in the very near future to better answer this question as the guidance is quite confusing right now.”

Iowa’s Statewide Assessment of Student Progress standardized tests were scheduled for April but have been suspended, Cole said.

RIDGE VIEW Supt. Jon Wiebers said his school district is in a holding pattern.  “There are still many questions we can’t provide a complete answer to at the moment,” he said. “We are receiving updates from the Iowa Department Education as they become available. We will then process the information and make decisions accordingly. We continue to work with area superintendents and AEAs during this time to address concerns and provide support to our students and families. We are providing breakfast and lunch each day on a grab and go basis. This is much like we do for our summer meal program.”

Wiebers is planning for school resuming on April 13. He said the school board authorized paying its non-certified staff until that date.

“Right now we have closed school until Monday, April 13,” he said. “We will plan on resuming classes then unless we are directed otherwise.”

Wiebers touched on why Ridge View cannot offer its students online learning.

“Iowa Code does not allow for days to be made up for online teaching,” he said. “We are providing resources to our students to access during this time of closure. Nothing is being made mandatory.”

Wiebers said he is already thinking about a plan in the event that school isn’t able to resume on April 13.“We will be assessing this in the near future based on guidance from the Iowa Department of Education,” he said.

Students who wish to work at home are encouraged to do so, however, it does not count toward school grades.

“Anything and everything they do at home makes a difference in their personal progress,” Wiebers said. “I encourage families to read each day and to take time to play games with their children.”

NEWELL-FONDA Superintendent Jeff Dicks echoed the sentiments of Cole and Wiebers.

“Currently the Governor has waived this current outage through April 12,” he said. “Because this situation is so fluid, we can’t have students make up the school year. Not all kids have access to high-speed internet and it would not be equitable (to do online schooling).”

Dicks said his district is trying to stay connected with its students during this process. Newell-Fonda’s also paying its hourly staff.

 “At this point we have teachers touching base with as many students as they can to connect with them and make sure they are OK as well as launching our lunch program,” he said. “Albert City-Truesdale hopes to launch lunch on Monday (March 23) and Newell-Fonda delivered three meals last week.”

ALTA-AURELIA Supt. Bill Walters took a different approach when it came to online schooling. “We chose to issue Chromebooks to grades 5-12 so we can still continue to connect with students and help maintain learning that was done for the past three quarters,” he said. “We prepared learning packets for pre-K to fourth grade. Teachers will be checking in with these families by phone, email or Google Hangouts. We need to maintain our positive relationships with our students.”

Walters couldn’t predict if students will be back in school by April 13. “That is really a moving target,” he said. “We need to see how long this closure goes into the future. The answer needs to be reasonable and most all what is best for our students.”

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