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Charles City Schools plan options for fall classes

Charles City Schools plan options for fall classes

By Bob Steenson,

Parents and students got their first look this week at the options for the Aug. 25 start of school when the Charles City School District released its draft “Return to Learn” plan.

School districts across the state were required by the Iowa Department of Education to develop plans to resume teaching this fall. In Charles City, that plan has involved numerous task forces with teachers, administrators, district directors, parents and others.

“Our parents have choices,” said Superintendent Mike Fisher said. “They have choices for their comfort and their kids’ safety. Remote learning is absolutely an option for all people at all times, and we will accommodate that, because we don’t pretend to know what’s best for your family. The family knows what’s best for their family.”

Fisher and Marcia DeVore, the Lincoln Elementary School principal who was chairwoman of the main re-entry task force, talked with the Press Thursday about the plan that was posted on the school’s website Wednesday evening.

The plan covers three scenarios as required by the Department of Education: holding classes on campus as usual; all remote teaching with students at home; and a hybrid of the two, with some in-class attendance and some remote learning.

What the Charles City plan doesn’t do yet is say which of those options will be in effect when school starts this fall.

That decision will be announced on Friday, July 31, Fisher said.

“We are ready with three different plans, but we want to make sure we pick the plan that fits what is happening in terms of COVID and that it’s a wise decision to make,” he said. “Obviously we’d like to pick option No.1 (students in the schools), but depending on our (COVID-19) numbers, we’ll have to figure out what is the wise thing to do.”

Fisher said the district would be clear about what information it is using to make that decision.

“The landscape for COVID is shifting every day. The numbers are changing every day. I would rather wait on our message than send mixed messages. We didn’t want to say something then change it,” he said. “We decided July 31st allows the virus numbers a chance to settle to see what’s happening, but also gives our parents enough lead time to prepare.”

Under the first option, all students in all grades would attend classes in person, but would also receive technology support to prepare them if hybrid learning or remote learning becomes necessary, or if their family decides one of those options is more appropriate.

Efforts would be made in all school facilities to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus, including monitoring for symptoms, teaching and practicing frequent handwashing, maximizing space between students and arranging classes to minimize crossovers among students and adults.

Mitigation efforts would include physical distancing guidelines for buses, playgrounds, bathrooms and cafeterias, and cleaning and disinfection procedures would be in place.

Fisher said a decision whether to require the use of face masks has not been made yet.

A task force with about 20 people including the Floyd County director of Public Health, the district’s legal counsel and a parent who is a physician are working on a recommendation for the elementary schools, secondary schools and staff.

“We have intentionally procrastinated,” he said, adding that the culture around wearing masks is changing, and more cultural acceptance of wearing masks in the community could be healthier for everyone.

If a remote learning plan is implemented, all students would be required to participate in remote learning from home.
DeVore said that’s the first thing she would emphasize: “That will be a big difference from last spring to this fall, that we’re going from a voluntary model to a required model.”

Fisher said, “We’re using COVID as a stepping stone. … We knew that some of our learning needed to be better anyway, and this is what’s causing us to really pause and ask how can it be better. So whether it’s at home, whether it’s as school, we’re going to look for that authentic problem-based learning and we’re really excited about the future of that.”

All students in grades five through 12 will be issued new Chromebooks and carrying cases this year. Students in grades three and four will get new Chromebooks to use in school, but if remote learning is necessary they will also be given carrying cases and allowed to take the Chromebooks home. Students in pre-kindergarten to second grade would also be given Chromebooks to take home for them and their families to use.

DeVore said the district realizes not all families have equal access to technology, and it is doing everything it can to identify those families and find ways to give them the tools they will need if remote learning is required, including access to stable internet services.

Fisher said the advantage of being a smaller school district is they can solve those problems.

“Say it is 100 kids. We can problem-solve 100 kids. If we’ve got to go find 100 hot spots, if we’ve got to go find a way to make it happen we’re going to do that. … We are budgeting money for that and we’re going to make it happen.”

A hybrid learning plan would involve some daily attendance in classrooms, combined with home learning. Students would be divided on which days they attend classes to maintain better separation.
DeVore said the hardest part of coming up with the plans has been the uncertainty.

“In education we’re very used to having a stable target and for this we have three plans that are working in unison, and we wanted to try and give appropriate effort to all three plans, to lay out so people are clear on expectations,” she said.

“One of the things that we’ve talked about a lot in our Return to Learn team is we know there are important parts in education that are academic but then also relational, the social/emotional piece. So we want to make sure that we are paying attention to both of those needs.

“We have worked as a staff throughout this summer to think about what does our teaching and learning look like, so that when we are on campus face-to-face, kids are getting a great Charles City experience, and if we have to use remote they are getting an equally good Charles City experience that is just coming through a different model,” DeVore said.

Fisher said that regardless of which model is chosen, Charles City schools will be teaching this fall.
“We come to school every day wanting to raise up the next generation of amazing people that will fix this world, and there’s a lot of stuff that’s going to need fixing right now,” Fisher said.

“I’m just afraid that we could really underserve a whole generation of kids if we’re not careful. And there’s a whole generation of kids that need us to help them learn and be loved, and I just want to make sure that’s happening.”