School board recap: 2/9/21

On Feb. 9, the school board discussed what changes will be made to schools across the district in response to the governor’s recent proclamation.

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Alex Carlon

WSS recaps the latest ICCSD school board meeting.

Vivian Polgreen, Reporter

Many things were discussed at the Feb. 9 ICCSD Board of Directors meeting. There were updates from Tate and West High, information about construction at school buildings and votes held on new legislation and financial reports. The most important discussion, however, was regarding the recent proclamation passed by Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, requiring all schools to offer a 100 percent in-person option for students. 

Among all schools in the ICCSD, 1,043 students, out of a total of 14,000, will be switching their education model. A total of 635 students will be switching from online to the new 100 percent in-person model. The remaining 408 students will be moving from the hybrid model to online. 

In the elementary schools, there are 115 students moving online and 389 moving onsite. In the junior high schools, 66 students are moving online, and 101 onsite. At the high school level, 227 are moving online and 145 onsite. Students switching models were given the choice to either transition on Feb. 15, the start date of the new model, or Mar. 11, the first day of third trimester.

There are many positives to in-person learning, especially in elementary schools. In-person school allows students to interact with each other, enables teachers to hold students accountable, and gives parents with younger children an opportunity to work without constant interruption. However, having so many people in one place during a global pandemic poses health concerns.

During this transition, staff and administrators at all schools are working to maintain health and safety guidelines outlined by the state and the CDC, while also staying cost neutral and causing minimal disruptions for students and teachers. The biggest challenges are among district elementary schools, which had the highest percentage of students moving in person.

When the hybrid model was in place, students were split into two groups, and each were only in the school building half of the week. This was designed to limit contact and maintain social distancing. However, in the new model, all students will be in the school building every day, more than doubling the number of students in a classroom in some cases.

Increasing the number of students in schools poses several problems with regard to following recommended guidelines. Across the district, there are classes with over 25 students, which makes keeping students six feet apart difficult, and in some cases impossible. However, making these classes smaller would require more teachers and would disrupt the education of the students who will have to switch teachers.

In addition to having the most students moving to in-person classes in elementary schools, some teachers at the elementary level had previously been teaching different classes or even different grades on alternate days, such as teaching third graders on A days and fourth graders on B days. But when moving in person, any teacher will only be able to teach a single class, which will require staffing changes.

One way to keep students and teachers safe is with vaccinations. Currently, the vaccine is not available to anyone under 16 years old. However, phase two of Iowa’s COVID-19 vaccine plan began on Feb. 1 and extends the opportunity to be vaccinated to teachers and educational staff. 

Last week alone, 411 ICCSD staff members were vaccinated, and a similar number are expected to receive the vaccine this week. The district reported that all scheduled staff members showed up to their appointments last week, despite weather that led to in-person school being cancelled. Anyone who was unable to make it cancelled ahead of time and their vaccination was given to someone else. 

Despite this progress, it is projected that district vaccine rollout will take around 8-10 weeks. The speed of the process will depend on which vaccine staff members are receiving, as well as the quantity of vaccines provided by the state each week.

Though the “100 percent in person law” has posed its fair share of challenges for teachers and administrators, the ICCSD school board is doing everything possible to ensure the health and safety of students and staff across the district.