CORONAVIRUS

College Community considers limiting virtual learning options

Parents angry district asking for medical documentation

Prairie Creek fifth-grader Nathan Soto starts on a physical education lesson Wednesday at his home with help from his mo
Prairie Creek fifth-grader Nathan Soto starts on a physical education lesson Wednesday at his home with help from his mother, Jamie Soto, in Cedar Rapids. Nathan has been learning virtually this semester because his asthma could put him at a higher risk of developing complications if he contracted the coronavirus. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Prairie Creek Elementary fifth-grader Nathan Soto has been learning virtually this semester during the coronavirus pandemic because his asthma could put him at a higher risk of developing complications if he contracted the virus.

His grandmother, who is 70, lives with him and his family and also is at an increased risk for COVID-19 complications.

Nathan’s mother, Jamie Soto, said the family is taking the virus seriously and she doesn’t feel that in-person school is a safe option for now.

“Props to those who are doing it, but this just wasn’t for us,” she said.

While all students in the College Community School District had the option of enrolling in virtual learning for the first semester, the district is taking a closer look at how many students it can accommodate in virtual learning for the second semester.

The district is considering offering an online learning option only in cases where the student or member of the household has a health condition that increases the risk of COVID-19.

The district is asking for documentation by Dec. 11 of health conditions from a health care provider from families interested in enrolling in virtual learning.

“I’m outraged along with many other parents that College Community is now demanding a letter from a doctor,” Jamie said.

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While Jamie has already contacted her 10-year-old son’s primary care provider and gotten a doctor’s note to submit to the school, she’s considering pursuing open enrollment in another school district. She said she is “disappointed” with the way College Community is handling the pandemic.

The district is offering virtual learning through the online curricula Edgenuity and Apex Learning. It is hoping to identify virtual learning needs for the next semester by Dec. 22, College Community communications director Steve Doser said in an email, and having families submit documentation of health conditions is a provision of Senate File 2310.

SF 2310, passed in this summer’s legislative session and signed into law June 29 by Gov. Kim Reynolds, is guidance for schools reopening during the coronavirus pandemic, requiring them to have return-to-learn plans for in-person instruction. It prohibits schools from providing instruction primarily through remote learning unless a parent or guardian selects it for the child; the Iowa Department of Education approves a temporary waiver; or a classroom must temporarily quarantine because of a COVID-19 exposure.

However, the new law requires districts to offer virtual learning for students who both want it and can document a qualifying reason.

“If a parent or guardian of a student enrolled in a school district or accredited nonpublic school notifies the school district or accredited nonpublic school in writing that the student, another resident of the student’s residence, or a regular caretaker of the student has a significant health condition that increases the risk of COVID-19, the school district or accredited nonpublic school shall make reasonable accommodations for the student, on a case-by-case basis, to attend school through remote learning,” a provision of SF 2310 states.

The College Community district had between 700 and 750 students registered for virtual learning in the first semester — only about 13 percent of the student population, Superintendent Doug Wheeler said.

Wheeler said this posed a challenge in staffing on-site learning.

“We’re not big enough to where we can really shuffle staff around as easily as if we were a larger district,” he said.

Wheeler is hoping to bring five teachers back from virtual learning to in-person learning in the second semester.

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The district is currently in virtual learning for all students after the Education Department on Tuesday approved a second virtual waiver for the College Community School District, allowing virtual learning to continue in the district beyond Thanksgiving break through Dec. 11.

The district began virtual learning Nov. 16.

Will McCoid, who has three children in the College Community School District, said the family chose virtual learning because it’s a safer and a more consistent option during the pandemic.

McCoid said he is “less than impressed” by College Community’s handling of second semester virtual learning students.

“It feels like they’re trying to force everyone back into the school and get teachers back in person,” he said, adding that he thinks his family will qualify for the virtual learning program.

Andrea Hanson, who has a daughter at Prairie Creek Intermediate School, said the family enrolled in virtual learning because her husband is considered high risk for COVID-19.

Hanson’s daughter, Luna, 11, has a learning disability and is doing well with the consistency of online learning, she said. She feels the district is making parents “jump through hoops” to continue virtual learning next semester.

Elizabeth Pendo, law professor at Saint Louis University in Missouri, said that although the district is within its legal rights to ask families to disclose medical conditions, a better policy would be to offer remote learning for all students.

“In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, a better policy choice is to allow remote learning upon request,” Pendo said.

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“It’s not required by law, but it certainly reduces the anxiety of the students and their parents.”

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, to request an accommodation because of a medical condition — like remote learning — enough information has to be disclosed to consider whether or not the person meets the definition of disability, Pendo said.

Many people, however, decide not to disclose medical conditions because they’re worried about being treated differently, she said.

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

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