Schools plead: Help students stay safe over Thanksgiving

Districts join call to curtail holiday gatherings

Head custodian Effie Redig helps a young student with her face visor as students arrived Sept. 28 for the first day of i
Head custodian Effie Redig helps a young student with her face visor as students arrived Sept. 28 for the first day of in-person classes at Shimek Elementary School in Iowa City. The Iowa City district moved earlier this week to online-only learning as cases of COVID-19 spiked in the community. School officials in Eastern Iowa are pleading with families to take health precautions over the Thanksgiving holiday so students can return to in-person classes after the break. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

As Thanksgiving approaches, Eastern Iowa schools are asking families to consider students when making their holiday plans by staying home, social distancing and wearing masks to help slow the spread of COVID-19 and get kids back in the classroom.

College Community Superintendent Doug Wheeler said there’s a “healthy level of concern” of people gathering together over the holiday and unwittingly spreading the coronavirus before students are expected to return Nov. 30.

The district joined many schools across the state amid the rampant spread of the virus in moving to temporary virtual learning, planning to resume in-person classes after Thanksgiving break.

“A definite concern is people taking advantage of online learning by extending vacations,” Wheeler said. “We’re online because we have to be, not because we want to be.”

Linn County is experiencing a steady increase in positive coronavirus tests, and Iowa has seen 12 days so far this month where over 4,000 people a day are newly confirmed to have the disease.

Linn County Public Health is urging residents to celebrate Thanksgiving virtually or only with members of their own household.

In a news release earlier this week, Linn County Public Health said the risk of being exposed to COVID-19 increases dramatically when people spend time inside with people from different households.


Holiday guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is not to travel for Thanksgiving and to celebrate at home only with the people you live with.

“What we’ve seen in the last couple weeks, maybe that has reengaged people’s concern who will be safer over the holidays and adjust their plans,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler, who said he usually travels within the state for Thanksgiving, said he would definitely not travel out of the state or get on a plane at this time and is sticking around home.

Even when students are in class in-person, that’s only seven hours of their day.

“We rely a lot on our community and making good decisions the other 17 hours of the day we don’t have students,” Wheeler said. “I’m really making a personal plea: Our staff is impacted by this, our students are impacted by this, our families are impacted by this, and I think if you talk to any superintendent in the state, they would probably say these are the toughest decisions we’ve ever had to make.”

In a letter to the community earlier this month, Cedar Rapids Community School District Superintendent Noreen Bush wrote that everyone is facing a tough decision about being with extended family members this holiday.

“We desperately want to have our kids re-enter our schools after Thanksgiving,” she wrote. “For that to happen, we need to see the trend of positive COVID-19 cases decline and the health care system needs to be stabilized and less taxed. Please, take the safety measures when you are with others outside of your immediate household so we can stabilize our community and bring our kids back to school.”

The students are an example every day of what adults need to do to curb the spread of the coronavirus, Bush said, by wearing a mask, sanitizing and washing their hands, social distancing and staying home if they’re not feeling well.

Cedar Rapids schools are in virtual learning through Nov. 30. The district is expected to make a decision next week about applying for a second waiver from the Iowa Department of Education that would allow students to remain on virtual learning longer.

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