CORONAVIRUS

Cedar Rapids will require face masks, shields if students return to class

But district still is deciding how it will conduct fall classes

The Educational Leadership and Support Center for the Cedar Rapids Community School District at 2500 Edgewood Road NW. (
The Educational Leadership and Support Center for the Cedar Rapids Community School District at 2500 Edgewood Road NW. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Students in the Cedar Rapids Community School District will be required to wear face masks or shields if they return to in-person instruction this fall.

Superintendent Noreen Bush on Monday presented a tentative return-to-learn plan to the school board, emphasizing that the district will need to “remain flexible and nimble and be able to change plans quickly.”

Under the plan, all district staff members would be provided masks and shields. Elementary school students would be provided face shields, and middle and high school students would be provided face masks.

Face shields also would be provided in instances where students or staff are deaf or hard of hearing and need the ability to lip read.

A district family engagement survey from June, which got 5,157 responses, showed about 54 percent of families that replied were comfortable returning their kids to in-person learning. About 36 percent were not sure and about 11 percent were uncomfortable with it.

According to the survey, the top concerns for families were students getting and spreading the coronavirus; not being able to social distance at school; school cleanliness; schools closing again; and student readiness to move to the next grade level.

The district still is considering whether to go with in-person learning, virtual learning or a hybrid of both. Bush said she hopes the district will be able to say more about which plan it will go with by Aug. 1.

If there is in-person instruction, the district gave these scenarios:

At elementary schools, all prekindergarten to fifth-grade students returning to in-person learning would be assigned a homeroom teacher to stay with throughout the day. Each classroom “cohort” would remain the same to limit contact between students. Specialty teachers who teach art, music and physical education would rotate among the cohorts.

At middle schools, all sixth- through eighth-grade students returning to in-person learning would be assigned an advisory teacher. The students and advisory teacher would remain in the same cohort to limit contact between students. Other teachers would rotate on no less than three week cycles to provide students exposure to different subjects.

Advisory teachers may facilitate virtual instruction to the in-person classrooms.

The plan for high schools’ return-to-learn plan still is being discussed, Bush said.

For every plan, the goal is to keep the student-to-teacher ratio to no more than 20-1. Teachers unable to return to in-person instruction because of health concerns might be assigned to teach a virtual classroom for families who don’t feel comfortable sending students back, Bush said.

Staff would be required to undergo temperature screening and be symptom-free before coming to work. If a teacher or student in a cohort classroom tests positive, that cohort would go to virtual learning for 14 days.

In guidance released last month, the Iowa Department of Education discouraged K-12 schools from requiring masks when staff and students return. But the advice drew immediate scorn.

Linn County Public Health plans to release its return-to-learn guidelines on Wednesday, Bush said.

A survey will be sent to district staff this week for feedback on the return-to-learn plans. A second family engagement survey was issued Monday. The district is hosting a virtual town hall later this month to share more information about the return-to-learn plan with families.

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

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