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District unable to guarantee safety with in-person schooling

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO Gov. Kim Reynolds delivers her Condition of the State address before a joint session of the Iowa Legislature, Tuesday, at the Statehouse in Des Moines.

Gov. Kim Reynolds’ Condition of the State address gave Marshalltown Community School District Superintendent Theron Schutte a lot to think about.

In her Tuesday address, Reynolds said she wants to require school districts to offer 100 percent in-person student attendance to parents during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Tonight, I am asking the legislature to immediately send a bill to my desk that gives parents the choice to send their children back to school full time,” she said. “We can’t wait any longer. And our kids can’t wait any longer.”

Schutte said he was not surprised at her stance, since she had been talking about it for the last month. However, he said she has never included the word “safely” in her desire to return kids to the classroom. While Schutte said the district will be able to accommodate it, they will not be able to guarantee safety.

“This is not a one-size fits all,” he said. “Just because it works for one school district, does not mean it works for all. It means different things for different schools which have various numbers of kids, numbers of staff and financial capacities to pay for the extra stuff.”

Since Thanksgiving, Schutte said the district has been preparing for just this possibility, but the safety of everyone in the buildings weigh on his mind. The only way the Marshalltown Community School District could guarantee the safety of middle school and high school students is by adopting a hybrid model – half of the student would be in class while the other half had virtual studies. He also questions what the transportation situation would look like as they try to meet the 3-foot social distancing recommendation if the hybrid model is taken away.

“We are doubling and tripling our routes now with one-third to half of the students in a hybrid model,” Schutte said.

He said the Iowa Association of School Boards is expecting the legislature to move quickly on this matter – perhaps as soon as the end of next week – especially since one party controls both legislative chambers and the governor’s office. The Association are strong advocates for local school district control.

“The governor’s recommendation takes away that local control and takes away the option we planned for,” Schutte said. “Everybody is tired and fatigued and frustrated with this ongoing issue. You can’t throw your arms up and say, ‘Let the chips fall where they may;’ not when it comes to the health and safety of people. That is an irresponsible approach.”

A detail Schutte said would have to be figured out is whether or not school districts will have the option to fully implement two weeks of online learning when local COVID-19 rates rise.

One thing that would make the situation better is if vaccinations are given quickly to district staff. Schutte said district employees are in Tier 1B and he hopes when those vaccines are being distributed, that they will be on the front lines.

He said the district will still require masks, shields and frequent hand-washing, but is concerned about the third most important recommendation – social distancing.

“We will not be able to guarantee safety because we will not be able to provide social distancing,” Schutte said. “But we will try to do what we can to be ready. We plan for the worst and hope for the best.”

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Contact Lana Bradstream

at 641-753-6611 or

lbradstream@timesrepublican.com.

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