CORONAVIRUS

More students, staff quarantining in Eastern Iowa school districts as COVID-19 rates rise

College Community intermediate school moving to hybrid instruction because of staffing shortage caused by coronavirus

Tina Butz, a day engineer at Madison Elementary School, demonstrates use of a Ryobi electrostatic sprayer to disinfect c
Tina Butz, a day engineer at Madison Elementary School, demonstrates use of a Ryobi electrostatic sprayer to disinfect classroom furniture at the school in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020. Disinfection will take place at the end of the school day, while increased sanitation will be ongoing throughout the day. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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Struggling to find substitute teachers to fill in for teachers out on quarantine or home sick with the coronavirus, Prairie Creek Intermediate School is transitioning from in-person to a hybrid learning model.

At the school, the College Community School District has “reached a critical point in our ability to adjust staffing challenges while adhering to mitigation strategies,” Superintendent Doug Wheeler said in a letter to families this week.

While the district has staffing challenges at its other schools, Prairie Creek is at a “critical juncture.”

Starting Monday, Prairie Creek students will move to a hybrid learning model, attending school in-person every other day and online on the other days. The district does not expect to extend the hybrid learning beyond Nov. 30.

College Community started students in the hybrid learning model for the first few weeks of school and then moved elementary and middle school students to in-person learning soon after.

While there were plans to move the high school from the hybrid model to fully-in person, the district never implemented it because of the surging COVID-19 cases.

Last week, the district added 12 positive cases of students and staff, and 79 students and staff were in quarantine.

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Iowa City concern

Like College Community, other Eastern Iowa school districts are seeing a sudden rise in the number of students and staff in quarantine.

The Iowa City Community School District had seven classrooms in quarantine as of Thursday afternoon.

Iowa City schools are following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Students in close contact with a positive COVID-19 case, even if both people are wearing masks, will be quarantined.

Students in quarantine will continue their instruction through remote learning, director of community relations Kristin Pedersen said in an email.

“Our health and safety mitigation efforts appear to be effective against the spread of the virus within our schools,” Pedersen said. “We understand that the rising number of cases in our community is causing alarm; we share this sentiment.”

The district updates the number of students and staff who are confirmed positive for COVID-19 and who are presumed positive and the number of students and staff quarantining because of exposure daily.

As of Thursday:

83 students were positive for COVID-19

208 students were quarantining because of exposure

12 staff members have tested positive for COVID-19

52 staff members are quarantining because of exposure

The total number of COVID-19 cases among district students since Aug. 15 is 303 and the total number of staff is 73.

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About 55 percent of students are in the hybrid learning model and 45 percent are enrolled in online learning.

Johnson County’s 14-day average positivity rate — the percentage of tests found to be positive — is 11.4 percent.

Iowa schools have the option of moving to online-only learning if the county has a 14-day positivity rate of 15 to 20 percent and 10 percent absenteeism among students in in-person learning. The request to move online must be approved by the Iowa Department of Public Health and Iowa Department of Education.

Cedar Rapids staff worries

In the Cedar Rapids Community School District, 31 staff members are in quarantine across 32 buildings, and 11 have staffers have tested positive for COVID-19.

Only nine students, however, are in quarantine and fewer than five are positive for the coronavirus.

The district is following guidance from Gov. Kim Reynolds, which does not require people who have come in contact with a positive case to quarantine if both people were wearing masks.

Director of Communications for Cedar Rapids schools Colleen Scholer said staff quarantines are not necessarily associated with close contacts at a school. The quarantines could have been identified through Linn County Public Health’s contact tracing process, Scholer said in an email.

Staff in quarantine have the option of working remotely when possible, she said.

Although Linn County’s 14-day positivity rate is 17.6 percent, Cedar Rapids schools do not meet the metrics to go online because they do not have 10 percent absentee rates.

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Linn-Mar quarantine

In the Linn-Mar Community School District, 74 students in elementary school, 58 in the intermediate and middle schools and 50 students in the high school are in quarantine.

Over 20 staff members are in quarantine between all the schools in the district.

Fewer than six students in elementary school, six students in the intermediate and middle schools and fewer than six students in high school have tested positive for the virus.

Superintendent Shannon Bisgard is “closely monitoring county and district COVID case numbers,” said Kevin Fry, district communications coordinator.

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

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