The Hiawatha School board met in special session Thursday morning via Zoom and are re-evaluating Wednesday’s decision to transition to remote learning at all three school buildings due to active COVID cases and quarantining primarily at the elementary.
After much discussion, the School Board set another meeting for 4 p.m. on Friday to allow Superintendent Lonnie Moser and other administrative staff to find solutions to staffing issues that would enable the district to reopen the middle school and high school to on-site learning. After reviewing the numbers, board members agreed that the majority of the concern over quarantining and positive cases was at the elementary school. Head nurse Erin Wenger confirmed 3 positive cases between the middle school and the high school.
In addition, the board voted unanimously to resume all sports and other activities, directing the Athletic Directors to attempt to reschedule events that were canceled following Wednesday’s announcement of a transition to remote learning throughout the district until Oct. 12.
HES nurse Whitney McCauley informed the board that 19 students were out due to exposure or symptoms and 47 additional were out for quarantine due to exposure at the school. She said this was 26 percent of the school. As of Thursday, 14 staff members were also out including 11 certified staff in quarantine. There were two positive students and three positive staff members as of Wednesday.
Wenger informed the board that 14 students were out from the middle school and 13 from the high school due to pending COVID tests, exposure, self quarantine or other reasons. She said the two positive cases at the elementary will have some impact once contact tracing is completed. Out of all HMS and HHS teachers, three were out as of Wednesday for COVID-related issues.
Superintendent Lonnie Moser said the decision was made Wednesday to transition to remote learning for all three schools because there simply was not enough staff to cover the 11 certified staff in quarantine. He said those not with symptoms can teach their class remotely, but each class needs a “proctor” or a staff member able to facilitate the learning in the classroom.
On Wednesday, as numerous teachers were gone, other staff from administrative positions and the middle and high schools had to be pulled over to manage classrooms at the elementary. Moser said that many other teachers in the district have elementary age children and would need to stay home with them. Due to the COVID-Relief Act, the district cannot restrict this.
Wenger told the board that while the county and state health departments did not shut down the school buildings, they were supportive of the decisions made to transition to remote learning due to the quarantining issues and positive cases.
Board members shared concerns from parents about why this decision was affecting all three schools and offered alternative ideas to reinstating on-site learning at least at the middle and high school levels.
Board member Ian Schuetz said he has had concern from parents who want to know how the concern leapt from the elementary to middle and high schools so quickly, causing both to transition to remote learning as well.
Moser said the administrative team looked at the district as a whole and determined there were 32 staff members who had links to the elementary school and wondered how they would be able to fully perform in-person learning with such low staff numbers. He also noted that the district was extremely low on substitute teachers to help out.
“If became a staffing issue, they were unavailable due to COVID, even if they don’t have COVID themselves,” he said.
Some administrators voiced a concern about having staff go from building to building — possibly increasing exposure to COVID.
The board members also discussed athletics and activities, noting that cases were low at the middle and high schools, so they felt there was not any need to restrict those activities.
Athletic Director Kim Lillie said she had already worked to cancel all activities within the next two week period and would have to move quickly to get as much rescheduled as possible. As of Thursday afternoon, cross country and middle school cross country competitions were reinstated on the schedule as was Friday night’s football game with Rock Creek.
Board members asked Moser and the other administrators to work on determining solutions for staff who may need to be gone due to having an elementary school age child out for remote learning and bring answers back to them on Friday in hopes of reviewing the decision to have the entire district on remote learning. The board set a special meeting for noon on Friday, which will be aired on the district’s YouTube channel via Zoom.