CORONAVIRUS

Eastern Iowa schools hope holidays don't bring COVID spike so students can return

Those plans hinge on whether COVID-19 cases once again spike

Linn-Mar Community School District Shannon Bisgard says he wanted the district to have a #x201c;proactive plan#x201d; an
Linn-Mar Community School District Shannon Bisgard says he wanted the district to have a “proactive plan” and commit to something before winter break begins next week. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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Eastern Iowa school districts are planning to return to in-person classes in January, hoping people are mindful of social-distancing precautions during the holidays and that coronavirus cases don’t spike again.

School districts such as Linn-Mar. College Community and Iowa City returned to in-person learning this week after two weeks or more of virtual-only instruction. Cedar Rapids schools returned to in-person learning Dec. 7.

Linn-Mar

While Linn-Mar has been in hybrid learning for its middle and high school students since the start of the school year, the district recently transitioned to hybrid learning — some online, some in-person — for all grades to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.

This week, the school board decided to continue hybrid learning for the first four days of school in 2021, from Jan. 4 to 7, to continue mitigating the spread of the virus.

Prekindergarten through sixth-graders will return to in-person learning Jan. 8.

The school board hopes to bring middle and high school students back in-person at the start of the third quarter, at the end of January.

Superintendent Shannon Bisgard said he wanted the district to have a “proactive plan” and commit to something before winter break begins next week.

The last two weeks of virtual learning after Thanksgiving break had its challenges, Bisgard said, “but I do believe learning continued.”

Virtual learning gave the district the opportunity for staff to recover from COVID-19 or come out of quarantine and get back into the classrooms, Bisgard said.

“The biggest challenge looking forward is predicting what COVID-19 will look like over winter break, and how we plan accordingly for that,” he said.

School board member Clark Weaver said it’s going to take everyone in the community to “be diligent” through Christmas break to bring coronavirus numbers down.

Board member Brittania Morey said the “soft start” of hybrid learning is a safer way to get students back into the classroom in January.

“Keep your distance, wear your mask,” Morey said. “If we can get (the COVID-19 positivity rate) down to 5 percent, there’s a chance of middle and high school students returning in-person.”

With COVID-19 vaccinations having begun in Iowa this week, Bisgard said, “to be at the point where we’re talking about vaccinations is wonderful.”

Iowa teachers, school staff and child care workers are among those being considered for the second distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine after health care workers and residents at long-term care facilities receive the vaccine.

School nurses are eligible for the first round of vaccination, Bisgard said.

Cedar Rapids

Cedar Rapids Community School District Superintendent Noreen Bush expects to receive guidance soon from Gov. Kim Reynolds on vaccines for educators.

“Our hope would be there would be implications that would come with (being defined as essential workers) that would come for our work group, but nothing yet,” she said in a school board meeting this week.

Mount vernon

The Mount Vernon Community School District also announced this week it will remain in hybrid learning for two weeks after returning to school Jan. 4.

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In a letter to families earlier this week, Superintendent Greg Batenhorst said the pandemic has “temporarily eased up in our area compared to where things stood just one month ago.”

“At the same time, we need to be more vigilant than ever in order to keep everyone safe,” Batenhorst said. “We know from past experience trends can change quickly, so please continue to practice virus mitigation strategies.”

Comments: (319) 398-8411; grace.king@thegazette.com By Grace King, The Gazette

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