The Hiawatha School Board voted Monday morning to resume in-person learning at the elementary school on Friday, Oct. 9.
The vote came after much discussion and updates from the school nurses and administration on health situations with teachers in quarantine at a special meeting Monday morning via Zoom and aired over the district’s YouTube channel.
School in the district abruptly moved to remote learning for all students on Wednesday, Sept. 23 after extensive quarantining and COVID exposure with elementary school staff and students created concerns not only there but with the impact on staff at middle and high schools.
The board met Thursday, Sept 24 and again Friday, Sept. 25 to discuss the situation and give administration time to develop a plan to cover classrooms at the middle and high school, as many teachers have elementary school age children who would need to be conducting remote learning at home. The board all decided at that time that since numbers were low at both the middle and high schools, they would prefer to transition back to on-site learning at both of those facilities and leave the elementary closed due to 5 positive staff members and two students that required the quarantining of approximately 100 staff and students.
On Monday morning, nurse Whitney McCauley updated the board that two teachers were scheduled to return Monday, two on Tuesday and five on Wednesday with an addition five returning Thursday. Only one staff member is out until Oct. 15. McCauley said there was one additional positive case with a student, however that student had not been on sight since Sept. 18 she did not anticipate there would be any residual exposure issues.
This was promising news for the board, who have expressed the desire to return to in-person learning at the elementary as soon as possible, considering the health conditions.
Principal Paul Carver said he was in favor of a return on Friday, Oct. 9 and noted that students all had devices, papers and textbooks to return that would need disinfected. He said that while Friday would definitely include regular educational activities such as instruction and co-curriculars that this day would also be used to get students and teachers acclimated back into the classroom. While devices can be cleaned in the classroom by students and teachers that day, he noted that textbooks would need to sit without use for 2-3 days to kill the virus. Allowing the weekend for this would be ideal.
Carver also said he and McCauley were planning to re-evaluate each classroom to ensure that distance rules were being observed and to determine if a better set up would be needed.
Hiawatha Community Hospital provider Jodi Twombly, PA-C, joined the meeting to give advice and said that providers all still feel that the middle and high schools can be in on-site learning mode and were in favor of transitioning the elementary back to on-site based on the numbers.
The board also heard from High School Principal Lori Fordyce and Athletic Director Kim Lillie about Homecoming activities. This year, there will still be some Homecoming festivities, with modifications. There is still a Spirit Week and STUCO is planning Bonfire games with non-contact games and masks required Thursday evening at the school. Fordyce told the board that float-building is a little different this year as each class is allowed time during Advisory at the end of the day to work on float projects and will be allowed time during the day on Friday, prior to the parade, to finish each float.
Fordyce said this worked out better so students were supervised during float building to ensure social distancing and mask usage. She also noted that there will be more floats this year to spread out the students and that the Homecoming Parade will not stop for its usual pep rallies downtown and at the elementary and middle schools.
The parade will start as usual at the high school, proceed West on Oregon to Eighth, turn south to Iowa and then back east toward Morrill Avenue, where they will proceed by the middle school on their way back to the high school. The community is encouraged to come out and support the Homecoming Parade, but to spread out along the parade route.
The board had discussion on whether to allow a Homecoming Dance, but Fordyce said she visited with the county health officials and the recommendation is to not allow a dance as they cannot ensure social distancing. Board member John Wright suggested an outside dance, but Fordyce said the dances are typically a big group of kids that are very close to each other.
Superintendent Lonnie Moser agreed, stating that “outdoors or indoors, a dance is still a dance,” noting he didn’t feel there was any way to make it safe.
Board member Amy Kopp suggested pursuing scheduling another more “safe” activity in lieu of the Homecoming Dance, but no decisions were made.
The board also heard from all building administrators about upcoming conferences — scheduled for Oct. 14-15. All three administrators have plans for Zoom or phone call conferences, but said if the situation warrants it, an in-person meeting can be set up with parents.
Gating Criteria and Quarantine Modifications
The board heard from Twombly about restructuring gating criteria that is more in line with a rural school district. Twombly said she would be meeting with the school nurses. She said that while they could develop criteria that better fit the small rural community, there would still be some gray areas that could need modified. She hoped to have something available for the Oct. 12 regular school board meeting.
There was also discussion about modifying the quarantine restrictions to also better fit the Hiawatha School District so having one or two teachers test positive for COVID wouldn’t have such a massive effect on the district.
Following an Executive Session, the board voted to extend (issue) supplemental contracts immediately to be paid over equal installments.
Teacher-board negotiations are ongoing at this time.