IOWA DERECHO 2020

Families of Cedar Rapids private school help with debris cleanup after derecho storm

Badly damaged roof, classroom repairs delay first day of school until September, principal says

Isaac Newton Christian Academy, 1635 Linmar Dr., NE in Cedar Rapids, suffered extensive damage from the derecho storm on
Isaac Newton Christian Academy, 1635 Linmar Dr., NE in Cedar Rapids, suffered extensive damage from the derecho storm on Monday, Aug. 10. Here, storm debris, including portions of the roof, sits outside the school building. (Grace King/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — First-grade teacher Alyssa Luurtsema was at Isaac Newton Christian Academy in Cedar Rapids, when hurricane-force winds hit on Aug. 10.

Luurtsema was preparing her classroom for the first day of school, which was supposed to begin Aug. 24, when tornado sirens began going off a little after noon.

When she saw debris flying past the classroom window, she and another teacher dashed into the bathroom, which serves as a storm shelter.

An alarm inside the school, at 1635 Linmar Dr. NE, began sounding, alerting them of a gas leak. The teachers exited the building, and hugged the wall of the school as the storm finally began to subside.

There were 10 people in the school when the storm struck, including a parent and a student. There were no injuries.

Luurtsema said she was excited to be one of the only schools in Eastern Iowa returning to all in-person classes during the coronavirus pandemic. But the start of the school year once again is uncertain as teachers, staff and volunteers work to clean up the school’s campus, and a temporary roof is installed on the building.

The wind blew three HVAC units off the roof of the school, removing some of the roof with it and shearing the gas lines, Principal Dean Ridder said.

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Ankle-deep water was in several classrooms. Windows, carpet and textbooks also were damaged in the storm, as well as a number of the school’s trees.

Ridder said he hopes the building to be “structurally sound and able to be occupied” by the 250 students who attend the private prekindergarten-through-12th grade Christian school by early September.

Jaret Van Zee, 17, a senior at Isaac Newton, helped clean up storm damage at the school Monday, which doubled as a few of the 60 hours of volunteer service he needs to graduate.

“I saw they needed help, and someone needs to get it done,” Van Zee said.

Return to Learn Plan

Isaac Newton’s is planning on using an in-person model to return to school during the pandemic. Students will be placed in groups and masks will be recommended.

The groups will remain together throughout the day, Ridder said. When students break out of those groups, such as for after-school care, masks will be required, he said.

All high school students have laptops, which they can take home. Junior high students have laptops at school and will be able to take them home if an outbreak of the novel coronavirus requires online-only learning.

Elementary students also have technology they can take home if there were an outbreak of COVID-19.

Ridder said the school has seen high enrollment numbers as parents in the public school districts, which are looking at hybrid models of in-person and online learning, seek out in-person learning options for their students.

About 30 percent of students who attend Isaac Newton are on tuition assistance. Tuition is $6,200 annually.

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Van Zee, a senior at Isaac Newton this year, said he is happy the school is acknowledging the risk of COVID-19, and he plans to wear a mask to school.

Van Zee said he was getting used to the pandemic.

“The storm threw everything off,” he said.

‘Blessing the school’

Ridder said that, after the storm, an Isaac Newton family drove by his home to see if he could use any help. Ridder’s next-door neighbor also came to his house, talking about the damage the storm caused.

The family overheard and offered the neighbor their assistance, getting some storm damaged cleaned up the next day.

“‘I see that God is blessing the school, and it is flowing down the hill into our neighborhood,’” Ridder said the neighbor told him afterward.

“I want our faith in God to be seen, and the neighbors of this school to want us to be here,” Ridder said.

Comments: (319) 398-8411; grace.king@thegazette.com

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