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No classes: Spring break extended in Charles City due to COVID-19 worries

By James Grob,

The Charles City School District has cancelled classes due to COVID-19 concerns.

In informational releases sent to parents, teachers and staff at about 6 p.m. Sunday, the district stated that it was closing its doors until at least March 24.

“Under the advisement of the Iowa Department of Public Health and local medical professionals, Charles City Community Schools will be extending spring break beginning March 16, 2020 through March 23, 2020,” the release said. “This effort is being taken in order to mitigate community spread of COVID-19.”

Immaculate Conception Catholic Elementary School announced on its Facebook page that it would be following the schedule of the public school, closing for a minimum March 16-23, although that announcement, like the public school district’s initial announcement, was made before Gov. Kim Reynolds announced later in the evening that she was recommending state schools close for four weeks.

Charles City Superintendent Mike Fisher said after Reynolds’ announcement was made that there would be senior leadership meeting at the school early Monday morning that would address the question of a longer shutdown.

All school-related events, extracurricular activities, athletic practices, competitions, parent-teacher conferences, and performances are suspended during the extended break, the school district said.

“We recognize the significant impact this extended closure will have on our entire community, and we take this action with the safety of the community foremost in mind,” the district said. “We will keep you informed as to how this will alter the school calendar as we learn more from the state Legislature and the governor.”

Fisher said the district was working with staff at the Floyd County Medical Center as well as Floyd County Public Health and the Iowa Department of Public Health in making its decision.

“Floyd County Medical Center leadership recommended a temporary closure to prevent community spread,” Fisher said. “In addition, we have many staff that are in the high risk factor category.”

Fisher also said, “The context of our community is important. With so many of our families coming back from spring break traveling, we felt it important we have more time for them to identify any symptoms so they can self quarantine.”

The school was on spring break last week and students had been scheduled to return to class on Monday.

“The good news is we still have several cushion days built into the school calendar that weren’t used for snow days,” the district said in its announcement. “We will continue to stay in close conversation with state and local officials, and we will keep you informed as we learn more.”

Although there were no cases of COVID-19 in Floyd County as of Sunday night, medical professionals encouraged all school districts in Iowa to use an abundance of caution. In addition, the Iowa Department of Public Health suggested canceling activities of more than 250 people. Each school in the Charles City district has more students than that.

Superintendent Fisher will lead discussion on the district’s response plan for COVID-19 at Monday’s scheduled meeting of the Charles City Board of Education, which as of Sunday evening had not been canceled.

The meeting is scheduled to start at 6:15 p.m. at the Charles City High School commons area.

Parts of the response plan were implemented before spring break, and the district said it has continued with that implementation.

An outline of the plan is among the agenda exhibits available to the public on the school district’s website, as are the releases that were sent out on Friday and Sunday. The plan is entitled “COVID-19 Coronavirus Action Plan.”

The plan encourages students and staff to take preventative actions to stop the spread of germs; intends to educate students, parents and staff on what to do if someone gets sick; and vows to keep lines of communication open with COVID-19 updates.

“In the unlikely scenario we are closed longer we will have a long-term food plan in place so students who count on the school to provide two meals a day will have access to extra resources,” the district said in the release. “Also if needed, we will roll-out a childcare plan for healthcare professionals and essential emergency personnel whose work is critical to continue their defense against COVID-19.”

The district said that, as part of its action plan, before spring break it ordered additional supplies of hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes, the district’s operations staff performed a routine deep clean of learning spaces over spring break, and teachers will be reteaching basic hygiene skills to all students starting Monday.

The district also said it regularly cleans and disinfects surfaces that are frequently touched — such as shared desks, countertops, kitchen areas, electronics and doorknobs — with EPA registered disinfectants.

“These are not decisions that are taken lightly and have been made with significant research and collaboration with medical experts,” the district said. “As a school district, we are closely monitoring the situation and taking guidance from the Iowa Department of Public Health. We are in daily communication with Floyd County Public Health.”

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