IOWA DERECHO 2020

Linn-Mar schools delaying first day of school three weeks

1,700 students choose online learning model, making smaller class sizes for students returning to hybrid learning

Shannon Bisgard is photographed at the Linn-Mar Learning Resource Center in Cedar Rapids Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018. Bisgard
Shannon Bisgard is photographed at the Linn-Mar Learning Resource Center in Cedar Rapids Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018. Bisgard is Linn-Mar’s new superintendent after working in various roles within the district for about 15 years. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

MARION — The Linn-Mar Community School District is delaying its first day of school by three weeks — with students starting Sept. 14 — after the derecho storm damaged half its transportation fleet and impacted every building.

The school board also approved a return-to-learn plan that adds a hybrid model of 50 percent in-person and 50 percent online classes for seventh- and eighth-grade students, in addition to the previously approved hybrid model for the high school.

Superintendent Shannon Bisgard, with the school board’s support, made the decision Monday to postpone the first day of school to allow time for the district to get its school buses ready and buildings repaired.

“The recovery (from derecho) is so massive,” Bisgard said.

He added during Monday’s school board meeting that, “I wouldn’t want to put us in a spot where we don’t feel comfortable or safe” returning to school. I think a delayed start is not only prudent, but honestly a necessity. We have to decide not if we delay schools, but for how long.”

With a three-week delay, teachers will begin pre-service Aug. 31.

Bisgard said delaying three weeks does not necessarily mean the district will tack on three weeks at the end of the year.

The superintendent was to speak with state Department of Education Director Ann Lebo Tuesday to ask for some forgiveness of school days and potentially an online start.

But with many residents experiencing power and internet outages since Aug. 10, Bisgard said that may not be an option.

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The buildings most affected by the storm are Wilkins Elementary, Indian Creek Elementary and the Aquatic Center.

“We feel pretty good about where we’re at in the first steps of recovery, but there’s a lot of work that needs to be done,” Bisgard said. “Until the power comes back on, we’re going to be limited in what we can do.”

Return to Learn

Linn-Mar students will attend school rotating 50 percent on-site and 50 percent online.

Students will be split into an A or B group alphabetically by their last name, to ensure families are on the same schedule across the district. A-group students will attend on-campus Monday, Wednesday and Friday one week, and attend Tuesday and Thursday the following week.

B-group students will be on the opposite schedule.

Prekindergarten through sixth grade students will start on the hybrid model for the first two weeks of school, before transitioning to all on-site learning, with social distancing and masks required.

Students in grades seven through 12 will continue the hybrid model through the first quarter.

About 1,700 students in the district have chosen online learning, an option available to all students.

Teachers with pre-kindergarten through sixth-grade classes will be assigned to either an in-person or online classroom.

Teachers in seventh through 12th grade will have a balance of in-person and online students.

The deadline to register for either model is the end of the week.

“That’s not a good or bad thing, but it does have some logistical challenges as we prepare for that,” Bisgard said.

At Echo Hill and Bowman Woods elementaries, almost half the students have enrolled in online learning, Bisgard said.

With the high enrollment of online learning, class sizes will be kept at 19 students or fewer.

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“This does give us social-distancing options, and gives us the challenge to create quality education online for students,” Bisgard said.

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

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