IOWA DERECHO 2020

Virtual learning OK for schools districts hit by derecho, Gov. Reynolds says

She says she will sign a new proclamation allowing remote learning

Damage is seen Aug. 11 to the Performing Arts Center at Kennedy High School in northeast Cedar Rapids. (Jim Slosiarek/Th
Damage is seen Aug. 11 to the Performing Arts Center at Kennedy High School in northeast Cedar Rapids. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — The Cedar Rapids Community School District and 13 others struck by last week’s derecho expect a new proclamation from Gov. Kim Reynolds allowing them to start the school year online instead of in damaged facilities.

Reynolds announced Thursday she is updating a public health emergency proclamation addressing school districts affected by storm damage.

“The proclamation will permit those districts whose school buildings have been damaged by the derecho to move to primarily remote learning while they repair their buildings and for students and teachers to return safely,” Reynolds said during a news briefing. “And if districts conclude that the damage to their district prevents starting even remote learning that they may apply to the Department of Education for a limited time instructional waiver.”

Cedar Rapids Superintendent Noreen Bush said in an email to families Thursday that a new start date for the first day of school in the district will be announced soon. It is waiting for a building assessment for 30 properties hit by the derecho and for the city’s infrastructure — including power and Wi-Fi — to be restored and stable before determining when that date will be.

A restoration firm has been working with the district’s insurance company “day and night” assessing the damage and beginning mapping out a recovery plan, Bush said.

Bush said the district hopes to have an initial assessment to review by Monday — which would have been the first day of school before the pandemic and derecho.

“We know that getting our students back to school is how we can help,” Bush said in the email. “It will bring some form of normalcy and support to the chaos of the virus pandemic and natural disaster — a combined catastrophe of historic proportion. We are working hard to create a plan that safely educates and nurtures our students within the parameters of our challenging situation.”

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The Cedar Rapids district experienced significant roof damage to 16 buildings, minor roof damage to 12 buildings and puncture damage at six other buildings.

There is water and structural damage in many of the district buildings that suffered roof damage.

The computer system the district uses to communicate with families and conduct business has been down since the storm hit Aug. 10. Bush said the district hopes to have that up and running by next week.

So far, 13 school districts and several private schools have reported damage to their buildings to the Department of Education. Those districts are Cedar Rapids, Linn-Mar Community School District, Marion Independent School District, Grinnell, Benton Community School District, Vinton and Shellsburg, Belle Plaine High School and middle school, Ballard, Summit Schools, South Tama, Calmus-Wheatland Marshalltown and Newton. Cedar Rapids area non-public schools that reported storm damage are Xavier High School, LaSalle Middle School, St. Jude, Regis, Pius, St. Matthew, All Saints and St. Joseph-Marion.

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

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