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With cases spiking, district prepares for full digital learning

By James Grob,

As the spike in COVID-19 cases in Floyd County continues, the Charles City School District is struggling to keep its doors open.

“We know that if conditions don’t improve, remote learning will become imminent,” Charles City Superintendent Mike Fisher said in a videotaped message to the community Thursday. “We don’t want to do that, however, if conditions don’t improve in our community, it could happen.”

A special school board meeting has been scheduled for noon today (Friday), where Fisher will update the board on COVID-19 conditions in the district. The agenda for the meeting said that the school board “reserves the right to take action at the meeting if necessary or recommended.”

On Wednesday, a secondary campus food service employee tested positive for COVID-19, and the district dismissed school at the high school and middle school as a precautionary measure. Those students were given “snow days” on Thursday and Friday, although teachers were still required to come to school. The district stated that it was using Thursday and Friday to plan with teachers and staff for possible future full digital days, if warranted.

Fisher said the district has been preparing for remote learning all year, and he sees the possibility of the state of Iowa coming in and closing the school down.

“We have to be prepared for remote learning if that happens,” he said.

At a special meeting on Nov. 5, the board approved transitioning grades 7-12 to hybrid learning through Thanksgiving break due to COVID-19 positivity rates in Floyd County.

At that meeting, Fisher told the board that the staff absence rate that day was 14.5% and 19 school district employees were on COVID-19 leave, either because they tested positive or because they were in quarantine.

Wednesday, the district had 29 staff members who were either positive for COVID-19 or quarantined. Fisher said that para-educators and administrators have been filling in as substitutes, but now many of them are starting to get sick.

“We’re just running out of people,” Fisher said, and then implored the community to do all it can to help slow the spread. “We need your help. Be wise, don’t be reckless. Wear a mask. Stay a safe social distance. Don’t travel if you don’t need to. Don’t go to a party or event that you don’t need to go to.”

There were 19 total new cases reported in the school district on Thursday, seven at the high school, and 112 individuals in the district are currently under quarantine.

The state has seen over 37,000 cases since Nov. 1 with an average of 21.8 percent of the COVID-19 tests being taken coming back positive. Recently, six of the past seven days have seen over 4,000 new cases, all with daily positivity rates over 40 percent.

The school district would need to request and be granted a waiver from the Iowa Department of Education in order to go to full remote learning. One of the conditions to get a waiver is a 14-day running positive test rate of 20% or above in the county for three or more consecutive days.

Floyd County has been above 20% for seven of the last eight days, with a high of 23.7% on Sunday and a low of 18.8% on Monday. The rate was 20.2% on Tuesday, 20.3% on Wednesday and 20.8% on Thursday.