CORONAVIRUS

Linn-Mar schools to move to virtual instruction after Thanksgiving break

District struggling with staffing shortages, waiting for waiver to be approved

Linn-Mar Community School District Superintendent Shannon Bisgard (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Linn-Mar Community School District Superintendent Shannon Bisgard (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

MARION — The Linn-Mar Community School District is transitioning into two weeks of virtual instruction for all students after Thanksgiving break, hoping to alleviate staffing challenges and avoid spread of the coronavirus after the holiday.

The district submitted a request to the Iowa Department of Education for two weeks of temporary virtual instruction, which is awaiting approval. The waiver would allow for virtual learning from Nov. 30 through Dec. 11.

As of Tuesday morning, 50 school districts in Iowa had active virtual instruction waivers.

“With Thanksgiving looming, there’s a lot of unknown,” Superintendent Shannon Bisgard said in a school board meeting Monday. “I’m hoping it’s better than the Halloween impact on our schools, but there’s no way to know for sure.”

Bisgard said he “hates” to recommend moving school online, but with the high county positivity rate, staff absences and difficulty finding substitutes, he sees no other option.

“I take absolutely no joy in this. It makes my stomach hurt. I want kids back in school as much as possible,” he said.

Earlier this month, Excelsior Middle School transitioned to two weeks of virtual instruction as the school struggled with staffing shortages. The rest of the district transitioned to hybrid learning.

The number of students and staff in quarantine has increased from two weeks ago to 593 students and 108 staff, Bisgard said.

Thirty nine students and 23 staff are positive for COVID-19.

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Staff absences has also increased from an average of 39 a day two weeks ago to 51 a day for certified staff, and the substitute fill rate has declined from 71 percent to 64 percent.

“The biggest challenges for us right now, no surprise, is staffing,” Bisgard said. “How do we keep staff healthy and able to work to run all of our buildings and departments across the district.”

“I honestly feel we need to get a better control of our numbers right now and do a better job of helping our community. Right now is the time for us to be extremely cautious and safe.”

School board members were in consensus about applying for a virtual learning waiver.

Rachel Wall said she is “disappointed” in the community that the virus has gotten to this point.

“We have figured out how to reopen bars, but haven’t figured out how to reopen our schools and provide a basic human right to our children,” Wall said.

“I would beg community members to your part as well We can only keep our schools open if people do the right thing outside the school day. It’s impacting what happens in our schools,” Brittania Morey said.

Barry Buchholz said he wants kids back in school. This month, he’s received over 150 emails from parents who want their kids back in school, but “the numbers aren’t lying,” he said.

CLEAR CREEK AMANA

Clear Creek Amana Community School District was granted another waiver Monday to continue virtual instruction.

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The district moved into virtual learning earlier this month as the district struggled with staffing shortages, particularly in the transportation department, because of a significant increase in coronavirus cases in the area.

The waiver begins Nov. 30, ending Dec. 14.

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

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