CORONAVIRUS

Cedar Rapids, Iowa City schools stick to 'voluntary' learning through coronavirus restriction period

Other area high schools require students connect remotely

Wickham Elementary teachers drive through neighborhoods in their Coralville district March 30 to say hello to the studen
Wickham Elementary teachers drive through neighborhoods in their Coralville district March 30 to say hello to the students who have been staying home because of state-ordered closure of school because of the coronavirus threat. The Iowa City school district was among those that on Friday elected to go with voluntary enrichment education opportunities as long as the closure continues. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

With the coronavirus pandemic keeping Iowa schools closed until at least April 30, Gov. Kim Reynolds gave school districts a Friday deadline to decide how they would continue to provide remote instruction to students.

In the Corridor, administrators from several school districts have chosen to start required education services — mandatory, graded, remote classes — for high school students while providing elementary and middle school students with ungraded “voluntary enrichment education opportunities.”

Districts taking that path include Linn-Mar Community, Marion Independent, College Community and Solon Community school districts.

The largest districts — Cedar Rapids, with 16,000 students, and Iowa City, with 14,000 — have chosen to provide voluntary education at all grade levels, as have Clear Creek Amana and Mount Vernon.

The state gave school districts three options to respond to extended closures:

• Provide “required education services,” which require restarting special education services and allowing student work to be graded and awarded credit.

• “Voluntary enrichment education opportunities,” which offers optional learning for students that cannot be graded.

• Do nothing and make up missed time in-person.

CEDAR RAPIDS, IOWA CITY GO WITH ‘voluntary’ learning opportunities

Cedar Rapids Superintendent Noreen Bush said she veered toward the state’s voluntary option because it gave the district more flexibility.

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Even though the district provides all of its high school students with a laptop, barriers to online learning still remain for some of the district’s oldest students, she said. Students who are able to access lessons online will be able to “move forward in instruction,” while others can catch up later, she said.

“Students who do not have access at the high school level, they won’t be penalized under the voluntary option,” she said. “Kids who are taking care of younger siblings, or have other barriers like not having internet access — though we’ve tried to provide as many hot spots as possible.”

Bush said districts have local control over high school seniors’ grades and will evaluate students’ “body of evidence” as they assign semester grades. High school students also will be able to take classes for “credit” or “no credit,” to protect their grade-point averages.

Districts are able to switch from voluntary to required education, or vice versa. Bush said Cedar Rapids could consider that for high-schoolers only but that would “be a heavy lift” as it requires restarting Individual Education Program meetings for students who receive special services. The district and special education teachers are working with those students individually, she said.

“We want to make sure we are not penalizing any child,” she said. “We’re erring on the side of the child through the pandemic.”

For high school students only, remote classes should be ‘equivalent in effort and rigor to typical classroom work’

Students at Linn-Mar, Prairie, Marion and Solon high schools soon will be required to take part in online educational services.

Linn-Mar spokesman Kevin Fry said those will be “equivalent in effort and rigor to typical classroom work.”

At Marion Independent, Superintendent Janelle Brouwer said in a Tuesday message to families that she chose the required option for grades nine through 12 “due to the uniqueness of high school course credits and graduation requirements.”

The district plans to have fully transitioned to required online learning by April 20.

“We understand that this decision will work well for some families and may be a challenge for others,” she wrote. “ … Please understand that our teachers and staff are also caring for their own families at home. It is important to us that we care for our students and families, as well as for our staff in this incredibly unique and challenging time.”

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Prairie High students — and younger College Community students enrolled in high school-level classes — also will transition to required education by April 21.

Superintendent Doug Wheeler said in a Thursday message to families “this model of learning will look and feel very different from traditional school,” noting students will not have to attend online classes at a certain time.

“While we would prefer to create a plan that requires educational services be provided for all grade levels, we lack the technological infrastructure, resources and time to do so in this crisis situation,” he wrote.

Solon Superintendent Davis Eidahl said he hopes schools will reopen before his district’s scheduled last day of May 29, but is making plans that recognize “the possibility of a closure through the end of the school year.”

Comments: (319) 398-8330; molly.duffy@thegazette.com

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