Reopening Update 7-17-20
On March 16, 2020 our world changed dramatically with the closing of schools for COVID-19. At that time most of us could not have imagined that students would not return to school in the 2019-20 school year and yet it became a reality. We now find ourselves looking towards the beginning of the 2020-21 with many of the unanswered questions still in front of us.
Governor’s Proclamation July 17, 2020
On Friday, July 17, 2020, Governor Kim Reynolds issued a proclamation that had several components that directly impacted the opening of Iowa School Districts. In summary, the Governor is overruling Districts that had opted to begin the school year remotely. The following is stated in the proclamation:
SECTION ONE. Under lowa law, "in-person instruction is the presumed method of instruction for all school districts and accredited nonpublic schools during the 2020-2021 school year. I direct that all state agencies, school districts, and other local governmental bodies and agencies shall take all efforts to prepare to safely welcome back students and teachers to school in-person this fall. These efforts shall also ensure that schools have the flexibility to continue providing education remotely if it becomes necessary and that parents have the option to select a learning model for their children that best meets the needs of their family. But the best interests of students and families requires that our schools are prepared to provide a structured, safe, and enriching academic environment.
The proclamation does give families the opportunity to choose between in person learning or remote learning based on what is best for their family. We still need to see the administrative requirements tied to this option (such as requiring a medical professional’s recommendation).
SECTION TWO. Pursuant 2020 Iowa Acts Chapter 1107 (Senate File 2310), section 15, subsection 1, I hereby authorize a brick-and-mortar school district or accredited nonpublic school to provide instruction primarily through remote-learning opportunities only in the following circumstances:
A. Parental consent: If a parent or guardian voluntarily selects the remote learning
opportunity from among multiple options provided by the school district or nonpublic school in accordance with its Return-to-Learn Plan.
Department of Education Reopening Guidance
On June 25, 2020 the Iowa Department of Education published Reopening Guidance for Schools. On June 30, 2020 the Iowa Department of Education published Reopening Guidance for Schools: Frequently Asked Questions in an attempt to clarify points made in the original guidance. However the FAQ was unclear and confusing as well. We have been told that further clarification from the Iowa Department of Education will be forthcoming.
The two elephants in the school room so to speak are Social Distancing and Wearing of Face Coverings. The following is how they were represented in both the Guidance and the FAQ.
Department of Education Guidance
Schools may not be able to guarantee that physical distancing can be met in all school settings throughout the entire school day, during school activities, or with transportation. This is similar to when children congregate in their community. It is important for schools to implement preventative health changes that can be sustainable and done with fidelity.
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 six feet from others in a school setting may not be possible. Examples may include therapy, transportation, recess and class passing time. Social distancing is mentioned and recommended in all of our training modules.
Department of Education Guidance
Requiring face coverings for all staff and students is not recommended. Allow the personal use of cloth face coverings by staff and students. Teach and reinforce the prevention of stigma associated with the use or non-use of facial coverings to support a respectful, inclusive, and supportive school environment (CDC).
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 (as outlined below). 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.
What we are reading is in many cases in contradiction with what we are hearing from Health Officials. To be transparent, much of what is being published is placing the weight of these difficult decisions on local authorities.
That being the case, it will be crucial for our school and our communities to build consensus on how to proceed with the 2020-21 school year. The consensus must be built around balancing the importance of children attending school and keeping each other and our families safe.
If as a community we set as our priority that the vast majority of students should attend school in person, social distancing will have limitations. Most schools including ours, will not have the space to ensure that all students are in the building and have the ability to keep them six feet apart. The same holds true for busing.
If we as a community set our priorities around social distancing then we will have online learning as a bigger part of our plan. In this plan, we all need to prepare for more students to be at home for a greater portion of the school year.
It is clear to me that if we were to implement social distancing in our buildings we would not be able to have all of the students in the building at one time. The following are alternate schedules that have been presented to help schools social distance.
In an attempt to capture the thinking of our parents ECSD sent a one question Survey in an attempt to establish a direction to move as we look at opening school in August.
Social Distancing at School *
I believe my child/children should return to school full time in August. I am aware that social distancing will be very limited in the school setting. I understand that my child/children could be potentially exposed to COVID-19.
I believe the district should focus on social distancing throughout the school day. I am aware that my children will be home potentially one half of the school week. Assigned school work will be required and graded. We will not be able to schedule all students in a family to be home at the same time.
What Do the Results Suggest?
461 responses, assuming one per household, give us a good response rate.
During the duration of the survey a 70% in favor of all returning and 30% in favor of implementing Social Distancing Measures held steady.
Based on this data and the Governor’s Proclamation:
We need to plan for the majority of students returning to classrooms in August.
Give Parents the choice between remote or in person for the beginning of the 2020-21 School Year.
All work is required and graded
Utilize the Hybrid Model to accommodate both.
Implement Social Distancing Measures that are feasible and sustainable.
How Do We Accomplish This?
Utilize the Hybrid Model To:
Implement Revised Scope and Sequence
Including priority standards missed
Adjusting expectations to need to know on upcoming curriculum
Establish a Learning Management System (LMS) that connects Teachers and Students both in the classroom and remotely. One System regardless of where the instruction and learning is taking place.
Grade 3-12 Google Classroom or Canvas
Grades PK-2 Seesaw
Ability to Capture Focus Lesson as Teacher is delivering to class and post to Google Classroom, Canvas, or SeeSaw to support learning in school and provide Teacher Instruction to those learning remotely.
We are beginning to see some variance in the way schools in Iowa will be reopening:
The Iowa City Community School District Board of Directors voted this week to start all students remotely.
The Dubuque Community School District proposed puting families on an A/B schedule allowing for ½ the students to attend on an A day and then learn remotely on a B day and vice versa.
I have received communication from most of the schools in our area and at this point all of them are looking to bring the majority of students back to school while giving families the choice to start remotely.
There are still many policy considerations to be made including the wearing of face coverings. .
We are expecting additional guidance on Fall extracurricular activities very soon.
The District Leadership Team composed of Teachers and Administrators met on July 16th and proposed a two week Soft Start to begin the school year. Buildings will plan and implement at a minimum:
Scheduled Parent Teacher Conferences on August 24th and 25th to address parent concerns and work with parents to understand the Learning Management System and expectations associated with the Hybrid Model of Learning
Social Emotional Screening
Instruction on the appropriate use of student devices
Instruction on using the Learning Management System
Team building activities
Facilitate students in reacclimating students to the school environment.
Teach, practice, and reinforce hygiene practices identified by the Iowa Public Department to mitigate the transmission of infectious diseases
Provide support for filling gaps that may have occurred due to the school closure last school year.
Please contact your State Legislators and the Governor’s Office about concerns around the lack of clear guidance for communities and schools. In addition, there have been rumors from the State House that families who choose to begin school remotely will not be on the enrollment count for districts. They would be considered “Home Schooled.” Given all that is going on, I do not believe we should be forcing families into this corner. ECSD chose the Hybrid Model for the purpose of being able to accommodate students in school or while learning remotely. In addition, the funding loss to the District would be devastating and place our District in financial jeopardy.
Please know that the situation is very fluid and has the ability to shift rapidly. We have at the foundation of our decisions not only the education of our students, but the health and safety of our students, families, and staff. I will make every effort to put out weekly updates to keep everyone up to date. If you have questions and or concerns, do not hesitate to contact me.
Darren D. Hanna
Emmetsburg Community School District