School plan offers options for learning

Face masks required for all

T-R FILE PHOTO Fisher Elementary kindergarten teacher Lauren McKibben gets her class excited with a counting activity. The district has a Return to Learn plan in place with options for parents to choose from — including on-site learning with extra safety precautions in place.

Marshalltown Community School Board members and members of the Return to Learn committees discussed the plan for the upcoming fall school year for two hours during the regular Monday meeting. No action was taken.

The district will offer two education options:

• On-site learning for students to physically attend school for those who are able and willing.

• Remote continuous learning to allow students to attend school virtually, which would require a minimum commitment of one semester and then the continuation of the student learning online would be evaluated.

The board also learned about a hybrid learning option, which is not being recommended by district administration.

• Hybrid learning, which would combine on-site and remote learning. Director of Instruction Lisa Stevenson said the hybrid learning option is difficult and is one the district has not experienced yet. High school students can learn on-site one day per week and the rest of the days, they can utilize the online platform. Students in grades pre-kindergarten through eighth can be on-site two days per week and then spend the rest of the days in the Google Classroom. The hybrid learning option is not recommended, but a plan for it had to be submitted to the Iowa Department of Education.

Board member Mike Miller gave district staff members a lot of praise in putting the plan together. He started by saying he was impressed with how quickly the school district reacted to the COVID-19 pandemic through providing Chromebooks and meals for all students, teachers moving to virtual hours and more. He said Superintendent Theron Schutte and the staff members deserve great praise for what they have accomplished.

“I think that recommendation strikes the right balance; between staff and student safety; between educational robustness and local economic viability and parent choice,” Miller said. “I think you have hit the right recommendation there and I support it. Good job.”

Schutte told the board the Return to Learn plan will likely not meet all of the community concerns, but the district is doing its best to put forward the best plan.

Board member Bob Untiedt asked if anyone knew how many students were planning on-site learning. Stevenson told him that depends on the responsiveness of parents. For example, she said school registration opened July 1, but only 37 percent of families had registered by Monday.

Board member Sean Heitmann asked Stevenson what a student’s day would look like if a parent decides to utilize remote continuous learning. She told him visual and website tools will be utilized to keep students engaged and their activity and progress will be monitored by teachers.

Board member Jan McGinnis asked how the use of public space — particularly in the elementary schools — will be staggered while ensuring students can get outside and move.

“We’ve got our elementary principals teamed up in different committees to talk about those different aspects — whether it has to do with how to accommodate lunch without large numbers of students; how to accommodate recess, knowing the equipment shouldn’t be shared,” Schutte said.

Untiedt said he had great faith the district staff will continue to do a good job.

“I have a great deal of respect and experience on the board both Bea and Mike have and also for the competence of the administration,” Untiedt said. “I’m going to try to draw very respectfully, an important decision in how we reopen the school and most of our other work. There’s at least two points and I will make them quickly. One is nobody has experience in doing this. So, determining competence around safety is fraught with peril and you couldn’t pay me to be the superintendent of any school district in the world right now. . . . We are going to make a decision that might result in the death of children and staff and students and we have to look, not necessarily at curriculum, not necessarily in terms of data collection but we have to look more seriously at the plans related to the safety. I am not trying to contradict anything anyone has said.”

Planning teams

The district created six separate teams to tackle aspects of the Return to Learn plan. The teams were:

• Required Continuous Learning and Iowa Academic Standards, led by David Stanfield and Amy Harmsen

• Infrastructure, led by Schutte, Adam Sodders and Jacque Wyant

• Health and Safety, led by Nora Ryan

• Social-Emotional-Behavioral Health, led by Eric Goslinga and Tim Holmgren

• Special Education, led by Matt Cretsinger, Anel Garza and Amy Starr

• Data, led by Pam Brewer-Michael and Paulette Newbold.

Members of each team presented plans to the school board, covering a variety of topics such as providing resources for distance learning; developing an effective communication plan; supporting the health and safety of students, teachers and families; developing a student interaction tracker; ensuring students of special needs have access to education methods; and ensuring effective implementation and support of the Return to Learn plan.

Board members were not the only ones with questions, as 13 district residents submitted inquiries and concerns about the plan via email to Business Director Paulette Newbold who read the emails to the board members.

Questions were asked such as how to make sure students keep masks on and what would happen if students take them off, how transitions would be managed to support social distancing, if teachers had the option to teach remotely, how parents would be notified of potential exposure and more. Concerns were presented about requiring students to wear masks, the safety of asthmatic children returning to school, that the decision of returning to an in-person school platform was made too soon.


• Student work and attendance will be required and graded.

• If a student is unable to physically return to school, online instruction will be provided.

• Mandatory masks for all students and staff with exceptions provided to people with medical, special or religious needs. If a student gets permission to not wear a mask, that student must maintain 6 feet of social distancing.

• The district will provide the masks as well as face shields to all students.

• Students will be separated by tri-fold desk shields during class to ensure at least 3 feet of social distancing as recommended by the American Pediatric Association.

• Building visitors will be reduced or prohibited.

• Meals will still be provided.

• Meetings between parents and school personnel will be held virtually.

• Temperatures of employees will be taken daily and students will be chosen at random for screenings.

• Frequent deep cleaning plans are being implemented.

• Regular hand washing will be encouraged and hand sanitizer will be available.

• Strategically placed signs will remind students and staff of protective actions, such as hand washing and social distancing.

• Large assemblies of students will not be permitted.

Contact Lana Bradstream at 641-753-6611 or lbradstream@timesrepublican.com.


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