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Charles City School District remains in hybrid learning; Fisher warns governor might change that

By James Grob,

Before Christmas break, Charles City Superintendent of Schools Mike Fisher was optimistic that the district would be able to open its doors to full-time, on-site learning by this week.

Then, the COVID-19 numbers changed directions again.

“Things are a lot healthier than they were around Thanksgiving, but they are trending in the wrong direction,” Fisher told the Charles City School District Board of Directors at Monday’s meeting. “I still believe there is a chance, maybe by the end of January or early February, that we can get fully open.”

The 14-day positivity rate — the rolling average of the percentage of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 in the previous 14 days in Floyd County — had been down for several days before Christmas break, which was the reason for Fisher’s optimism.

But the rate has trended upward since then. Fisher said there had been a slight uptick in absent staff members as well, and he told the board that Floyd County Public Health has recommended remaining in hybrid learning for at least the next two weeks.

There have been COVID-19 cases reported in the district every day since school resumed, with four individuals in quarantine on Monday. The positivity rate in Floyd County was at 14.2% on Monday, while the student absentee rate was at 3.38%.

In October the school board approved a hybrid-decision making matrix that takes into consideration student absence rates and transmission rates within Floyd County as metrics to determine whether to remain teaching on site, to go back to the hybrid learning plan, or — in a worst-case scenario — closing school altogether and going to full remote learning.

The two biggest metrics factored into the matrix to trigger the move to full remote learning include a county positivity rate of above 20% and a student absentee rate of 10% or higher. Although the current numbers aren’t that high, they are trending that direction, and Fisher said he’s been told by public health officials that a spike is expected soon.

“We’re sticking with our matrix,” Fisher said. “The matrix keeps us grounded.”

Fisher said that it is entirely possible that Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds could overrule the matrix, however, and he wanted both the board and the community to be prepared for that possibility.

“We are preparing for that,” Fisher said. “It’s pretty widely-reported that that’s the governor’s preference.”

Fisher said there is a lot of talk throughout the state that Reynolds or the Iowa Legislature — which opened its new session Monday morning — would force schools to fully open, regardless of the COVID-19 numbers.

Fisher also told the board that the district’s School-To-You home learning numbers, which were once above 300 students, are now down closer to 200, so more parents are choosing to send their parents to class.

In action Monday, the board approved the the continuation of the Families First Coronavirus Leave Act through March 31, as recommended by Fisher. The act expired on Dec. 31.

Fisher explained to the board that the law allowed employers to provide up to 80 hours of paid leave for employees with COVID-19. The law allows employers to continue the leave voluntarily until March 31 if they choose.

“It just gives assurance to our family, that they will be protected if they come down with COVID,” Fisher said. “March 31 is the longest we can extend it right now.”

Fisher said that after conversations with teacher and support staff associations and district leadership, all felt this was best for the district and meets the mission of being a “regardless school.”

I think this is great, and it’s the right thing to do,” said director Missy Freund. “Let’s support our staff.”

In other action, the board approved a 2021-22 At-Risk/Dropout request for modified supplemental resources totaling $476,508. The purpose of the requested amount is to provide additional resources for the 2021-2022 school year that are necessary to implement the at-risk, dropout prevention, and returning dropout services for identified students that are included in the district’s adopted plan.

“The application is just for the money, it is not tied to any specific program,” said Director of Finance Terri O’Brien.

O’Brien explained that dropout services provided in the past have included the juvenile court liaison officer, intensive guidance services, school-based youth services, school within a school, the Carrie Lane alternative program, math, reading and science workshops, intervention room, behavior interventional, summer school, and before and after school programs.

In other business Monday, the board:
— Approved an agreement with Iowa DOT for work on district property. The DOT requested board approval for work around Lincoln Elementary for sidewalk construction. This is part of the Highway 18 project. The construction period is listed from Feb. 17 to Nov. 19. Work around Lincoln Elementary will be completed toward the end of summer and handled before students are back in school. The DOT will pay the district $200 for the use of district property, and assured the district that the DOT would repair any damage done to district property.
— Approved the June 30, 2020, audit report completed by Nolte, Cornman & Johnson. O’Brien indicated that there was no new information in the report.
— Approved the appointment of Ciana Sonberg, volunteer wrestling coach, no salary, effective Jan. 11.
— Hearing no comments at a public hearing, the board approved minor revisions to the 2020-21 school district calendar.
— Approved a resolution with the city of Charles City to amend the South Grand Urban Renewal Area to encompass the Parkside housing development.
— Approved the bid from Midwest Roofing Co. for $62,800 for the replacement of section M roof at the high school. The budget for the project is $64,000.
— Approved the professional engineering services agreement with Veenstra & Kimm Inc. for work on the high school running track project. Work is anticipated to begin after track season.
— Approved a memorandum of understanding with North Iowa Community Action Organization Head Start for services provided Sept. 1, 2020, through June 30 this year.
— Heard a presentation from CCHS Principal Bryan Jurrens and CCMS Principal Joe Taylor regarding the progress, challenges, and growth area of the district’s instructional vision, teaching, and learning.
— Heard a presentation from Sherri Meza and Jenna Haglund regarding information on the equity strategic planning.

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