CORONAVIRUS

Iowa City schools consider delaying first day of school until September

Families to receive e-registration information Wednesday to choose between virtual, hybrid learning

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)

IOWA CITY — The Iowa City Community School District is considering delaying the start of the school year until Sept. 8 to mitigate some risk of coronavirus exposure.

Officials hope that by delaying the start of the school year, the state Department of Education might grant their request to begin the year remotely. Instead of beginning classes Aug. 24, and holding five weeks of virtual instruction, a September start would mean only three weeks of virtual instruction, interim Superintendent Matt Degner said.

This also will give the district time to assign teachers to online or in-person classrooms after e-registration when families have chosen whether their students will be taught virtually or in a hybrid of virtual and classroom instruction.

“Since we’re in limbo, we anticipate more students to sign up for prekindergarten through 12th grade online learning, so the staffing puzzle will be more challenging to put together,” Degner said.

The school board will hold a public hearing and vote on the delayed first day of school at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 4, during a special board meeting.

With the modified schedule, the last day of school would be June 11.

Degner said he is concerned about students beginning school in-person Aug. 24, as students from across the U.S. and around the world return to the University of Iowa.

The Iowa City Community School District and two others have submitted written requests to the Department of Education to begin the school year online, Heather Doe, Department of Education Communications director, said in an email to The Gazette on Tuesday afternoon.

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Rolling Green Elementary School, a year-round elementary school in Urbandale, was approved to temporarily move to primarily remote learning from July 23, to Aug. 6.

Gov. Kim Reynolds is holding a news conference Thursday at 11 a.m. to provide more guidance on return-to-learn plans.

The school board indicated support of delaying the start of the school year.

“I think most of us have said at one point or another in-person learning is the most effective way to teach our kids, and we want to do that. ut we struggle with how to do that and ensure the health and safety of our kids and staff,” said Shawn Eyestone, board president. “A calendar change ensures we can have at least a couple more weeks of in-person learning at the end of the year.”

E-registration

Families can begin making the choice of whether they want to enroll their students in standard enrollment, which could shift between a hybrid of on-site and virtual learning or online learning if there is an outbreak of the coronavirus, or continuous online learning.

The district is sending an email to all families by the end of the day Wednesday with information about how to e-register for the 2020-2021 academic year. All families are required to register their students, a decision parents are being asked to make by Aug. 9.

Online learning

Continuous online learning will be available for all preschool through 12 Grade students in the district.

Classes are being created by teachers and administrators in the Iowa City school district and are designed to replicate a typical in-classroom experience, said Amy Kortemeyer, assistant superintendent of schools. Classes may be taught live or be more self-guided with teachers available for one-on-one instruction and small group time scheduled.

Other classes may be offered through Edgenuity, an online curriculum provider. However, Iowa City teachers are working to create those classes for virtual instruction and be offered by them instead, Kortemeyer said.

Continuous online learning will follow the district calendar. If families choose this option, more information will be provided between Aug. 14 and 17, Kortemeyer said.

All core classes will be offered including Language Arts, Math, science, Social Studies, art, music, physical education, library and media, and counseling.

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A full list of available online classes can be found on iowacityschools.org.

Special services

Students entitled to special education instruction will have access to that online, said Diane Schumacher, director of curriculum, instruction and assessment.

Students with a Individualized Education Plan, 504 Plan, English Language Learners (ELL), and students who need other accommodations will have their needs met in online programming.

Once a student with an Individualized Education Plan enrolled in online learning, their parents or guardian will have a meeting with the building principal and teacher to discuss what accommodations and supports they might need.

Students who choose virtual learning also will be eligible to participate in school sports, clubs and other extracurricular activities, some of which may be offered virtually.

Gauging teacher comfort

Only 60 percent of teachers indicated they were comfortable returning to in-person instruction this fall in a staff survey, said Chace Ramey, the district’s chief human resources officer.

The survey, which has been open for less than a week, has received 80 percent participation.

Ninety-five percent of teachers said they would feel comfortable continuing in their role if school began virtually, Ramey said.

About 13 percent, 200 teachers, said they would be interested in exploring potential leave options or workplace accommodations.

“Work choice is important,” Ramey said. “We think the comfort level of our employees and providing a supportive environment is critical to us as a district.”

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

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