CORONAVIRUS

Iowa City school district picks interim superintendent as it reports its first coronavirus case

A member of a construction team at West High self-reported COVID-19 status to the district

The Iowa City Community School District Headquarters in Iowa City. (Gazette file photo)
The Iowa City Community School District Headquarters in Iowa City. (Gazette file photo)
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IOWA CITY — Assistant Superintendent Matt Degner was chosen as interim superintendent for the Iowa City Community School District during a school board meeting Tuesday.

“I think we have a lot of great things moving forward here, and I’m looking forward to continuing the momentum on a lot of those pieces,” said Degner, who formerly was district director of secondary schools and principal of South East Junior High. “Obviously, the transition is hopefully at some point away from this pandemic situation.”

His unanimous appointment came during a virtual Iowa City school board meeting where the district’s first case of coronavirus was reported.

Chace Ramey, the district’s chief human resources officer, said a construction worker at West High School self-reported the infection Tuesday.

The school building will be closed for 72 hours while custodial staff clean and sanitize the school, which has been closed to students since mid-March.

The district will relocate meal pickup service that has been provided at West High starting Wednesday.

“This is unfortunate but maybe not unexpected knowing that there is community spread,” Ramey said.

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The district’s change of leadership comes as Superintendent Stephen Murley leaves for a new position with the Green Bay Area Public School District starting July 1. He accepted the Wisconsin job less than two weeks before the coronavirus pandemic first led to school closures in Iowa.

“This is one heck of a mic drop moment, going out with this crazy world we’re all living in now,” board member Shawn Eyestone said.

The board unanimously accepted Murley’s resignation, effective June 30, during Tuesday’s meeting.

“It does say a lot about Steve’s leadership that we have someone who will be able to step into that role,” board member Ruthina Malone said. “I have every confidence that, Matt, you will continue to move us forward but also strengthen your own leadership and create your own leadership style.”

According to Degner’s interim superintendent contract, the district will pay him a base salary of $200,000. The contract runs until June 30, 2021.

Shift to required learning for Iowa City high schools

The board and the district administrators also discussed the plan to begin “required educational services” for high school students and staff, while the district will continue to provide voluntary learning opportunities to younger students.

The state allowed districts to choose whether to provide “voluntary” opportunities to students — which can’t be graded or counted for credit — or “required” education, which should compare to learning that would take place in a physical classroom.

Iowa City schools, which had previously decided to provide voluntary lessons to all of its students, announced it would switch to required at the high school level when Gov. Kim Reynolds closed schools for the rest of the academic year Friday.

Required learning will start Monday.

Degner said during the meeting students will be able to decide which classes they want to engage with virtually and will be able to withdraw from courses without receiving a failing grade.

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Students who had passing grades in third trimester classes also can choose to earn a letter grade or accept a “pass.” Students who were failing when schools first closed can earn a passing letter grade or withdraw.

The district asked high school students to indicate their plans through the end of the school year in a survey Tuesday afternoon. Degner said 1,100 students — of about 4,200 enrolled in high school — responded within three hours.

Brady Shutt, president of the Iowa City Education Association teachers union, said teachers have been reaching out to students.

“People are really approaching this with a lot of grace and empathy and compassion and inclusion,” said Shutt, who teaches at City High School.

Shifting to required learning means Iowa City high schools must provide special education services as well. Special Education Director Lisa Glenn said the state has given districts flexibility as they provide services to students with Individual Education Programs or IEPs.

“Teachers actually have more room to innovate, and as soon as we can help teachers understand that, I think they’ll actually maybe have a good time designing supports where the sky is the limit and thinking of really new and innovative ways to get content and services,” Glenn said. “What we really hope is some of those ideas will transfer back, once students are back in front of us.”

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

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