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MHS, middle school students to alternate online and on-site

Hybrid Return to Learn model approved

contributed photo MHS Project Lead the Way teacher Ryan Carroll, right, shows eighth grader Vania Madrigal Ibarra, a computer activity at Eighth Grade Parent Night last year. Middle school students will attend school with a hybrid Return to Learn model.

The Return to Learn plan for the Marshalltown Community School District was approved in a 5-2 vote by the school board on Monday.

Voting against the plan were board members Mike Miller and Bob Untiedt. Voting in favor were Sara Faltys, Sean Heitmann, Karina Hernandez, Janis McGinnis and Bea Niblock.

Numerous district administration officials spoke about the plan.

Superintendent Theron Schutte recommended implementing the proposed hybrid model for the Marshalltown High School and Miller Middle School during the first quarter, after which it will be evaluated.

The model was considered by the Marshalltown Community School Board in July, but was dismissed. In July, the recommendation was for students to learn either on-site or virtually and the hybrid model was presented as a possibility.

Younger students will learn either on-site or virtually.

He said the model would consist of half of the students attending on-site classes on Mondays and Tuesdays while the other half would take virtual courses. Then on Wednesdays and Thursdays, the students would switch — the on-site learners would turn to virtual learning and the students at home would be on-site.

“On any given day school is in session, around 50 percent or more of the students would actually be in session,” he said. “So we would divided our student population in half — alphabetically, most likely.”

Schutte said the hybrid model would be in place for the first nine weeks of school and then will be evaluated.

“We believe Marshall County to be what is considered to be substantial controlled in the 15 to 20 percent range,” he said.

Schutte said based on the data provided to the district, the state of Marshall County is a hotspot in Iowa. He said Gov. Kim Reynolds’ proclamation on Thursday does not allow school districts to close unless the rate of COVID-19 cases in a county reaches 20 percent.

Miller asked Schutte how to justify the change in the middle and high school changes. Schutte said there are different types of risks in those buildings. Miller said if the middle and high schools are to be operated differently, then gatherings and events should also be canceled.

Miller said there is a home football game scheduled for Aug. 27, and Schutte told him they have not yet figured out how to enforce the safety precautions.

Miller said the information provided by the Iowa Department of Public Health COVID-19 website is muddled and he can’t tell exactly where the county is in terms of rate. He said the lack of specifics of the information gives him pause.

Untiedt said the inconsistency and lack of guidance provided by the state and federal governments does not do the district any service.

Plan aspects

Walk-through temperature scanners and handheld scanners have been ordered and are being installed. Cloth face masks and shields have been ordered and disposable masks for visitors are available. Desk shields will also be available.

He said district staff are not taking any of the Return to Learn planning lightly.

“There is risk inherent and there will be risk inherent regardless of what we do but we are trying to take all the reasonable safety and health measures while complying with the law, the statutes, the proclamations and the expectations that our local, state and federal officials have for us,” Schutte said.

Director of Instruction Lisa Stevenson said the district is trying to be responsive to parents who are concerned about sending children back to school. She said 3,066 parents have responded with their choices on either sending children back to school on-site or opting for virtual learning. Stevenson said 936 students so far will be learning virtually.

“We know this is not all of our families. We’ve accounted for maybe 60 to 70 percent,” Stevenson said. “The numbers you see in virtual learning slots may change.”

She pleaded with parents who have not decided yet how their children will attend school to please do so by the Wednesday deadline.

Director of Activities Ryan Isgrig said practice for fall sports will begin in a week. Coaches will take temperatures of the athletes. Practices will be modified to allow for social distancing to the best of their ability.

“It’s a lot more challenging for some sports than others,” Isgrig said. “We’re going to ask them to get as creative as they can here this fall.”

Director of Human Resources Nora Ryan said the district is facing a worse substitute teacher shortage. Last year, the district had 72 people signed up for sub positions, which was not enough. This year there are only barely 50.

“We are really in need of substitute teachers,” she said.

The requirements to be a substitute teacher has been relaxed. This year, a person only needs 60 college credits, rather than a four-year degree. Ryan also said a person needs to complete a substitute authorization course.

Stacey Tool-Crawford, the district nurse, told the board students will be recommended to stay home if sick – especially if any symptoms of illness include a new cough, shortness of breath or the loss of taste and smell. Low-risk symptoms include fever, headache, muscle or body aches, fatigue, sore throat, congestion, nausea and diarrhea. Tool-Crawford said if a student displays at least two of the low-risk symptoms, he or she should stay home.

“Those are the main things that might be COVID related,” Tool-Crawford said.

She said each nurse office in the district will have a well-area and a sick-area. Students with COVID-19 symptoms will be placed in the sick-area. Tool-Crawford asked parents to check on the health of their children each day before sending them school.

She also said absentee rates will be observed every day in each school building. Tool-Crawford said the district reports to the state if there is a 10 percent absence of students due to illness in a building.

Business Director Paulette Newbold said MCSD was approved to receive FEMA money to use for COVID-19. She said the funding will reimburse the district for allowable expenditures at 75 percent. Newbold said the state will match 10 percent of expenditures, so the district is responsible for the remaining 15 percent.

“What we understand right now is that we will be able to use that federal CARES Act funding to cover the 15 percent local match for the FEMA assistance,” she said.

To date, the district has spent $265,000 on personal protective equipment and has received $861,000 CARES Act money, which she said will go fast.

“This FEMA assistance will really free up some of that CARES Act funding we received,” Newbold said.

“As has been affirmed by our state officials and local officials, this is an ever-changing and fluid and somewhat unknown situation that we are trying to navigate,” Schutte said. “I can just simply share that once again, I am extremely proud of the team that presented today as well as a lot of other employees.”

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

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