Education

Iowa City schools plan for hybrid next week, but apply for another virtual waiver

District's COVID-19 decision matrix suggests students be online-only if county above 10 percent positivity rate

A bottle of hand sanitizer sits on a cart at a school. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
A bottle of hand sanitizer sits on a cart at a school. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

IOWA CITY — The Iowa City Community School District is planning on returning to hybrid learning Monday while also applying for another temporary virtual learning waiver for Dec. 14-18.

The Iowa City school board is following its COVID-19 decision matrix, which was approved earlier this year to help guide these decisions during the coronavirus pandemic.

The matrix states that the district will consider online-only learning of the county 14-day positivity rate is 10 percent or higher.

On Tuesday, Johnson County’s 14-day positivity rate was 11.3 percent, steadily trending down from all-time high positivity rates in November.

School officials are hopeful that it could drop below 10 percent by Monday, however, they are also wary of a spike in cases after the Thanksgiving holiday less than two weeks ago.

Superintendent Matt Degner said he tried to apply for a temporary virtual waiver from the Department of Education earlier in the week, but was asked to wait as coronavirus cases trend down throughout the week.

If the district is approved for another virtual waiver, the decision about whether to move hybrid Monday or continue virtual will be made at that time.

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The waiver would only be for one week, with winter break beginning Dec. 21. Students are expected to return to hybrid learning Jan. 4, 2021.

The district began temporary virtual learning Nov. 14, after being approved for a waiver from the Iowa Department of Education.

School board President Shawn Eyestone said that although the county coronavirus numbers are trending down, the number of COVID-19 cases still is high in Iowa.

“Don’t fool yourself into thinking Iowa is great,” Eyestone said. “Johnson County is terrible, our whole state is made. The entire state of California, which has 12 times more people than Iowa, has a statewide 14-day average of 8 percent.”

School board member Janet Godwin said this a hard decision because students only have one week of possible in-person learning before winter break.

“There is a strong desire for families to have students back in the classroom, even in a hybrid model,” Godwin said.

Godwin is also concerned about a surge in coronavirus cases after Christmas and New Years, which would force the district to start school online-only.

School board member Ruthina Malone said the matrix is the district’s “contract with the public,” and the school board needs to follow the guidelines they set earlier in the year.

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“Right now things are just uncertain, but most of our families know we have this matrix that we have committed to,” Malone said.

The district also decided to continue with its 14-day quarantine guideline for students and staff exposed to COVID-19.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidance this month that allows for reducing the number of days of quarantine from 14 days to 10.

The Iowa City schools Health and Safety Team, however, suggested the district stay with its current model as they have seen success in mitigating the spread of the coronavirus within their schools.

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

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