CORONAVIRUS

School reopening plans: Iowa City to require masks while Cedar Rapids, Linn-Mar, College Community, Marion decisions coming soon

The sun shines behind a school crossing zone. (AP Photo/Matt York)
The sun shines behind a school crossing zone. (AP Photo/Matt York)
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With less than two months to go until the first day of school, districts are starting to answer the question on many parents’ minds — masks or no masks in the classroom?

Iowa City Community School District officials announced Tuesday their guidelines for the return of students and staff — including socially-distanced classroom configurations, plexiglass guards in high-density areas of the building and required face masks or shields, with medical exemptions.

School districts in the Cedar Rapids-Marion area Wednesday promised more information “in the coming weeks” about how classes will resume amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Iowa public school districts and accredited private schools were required to submit “Return to Learn” plans to the state by Wednesday.

Documents submitted to the Iowa Department of Education were a set of assurances, Iowa City Schools interim Superintendent Matt Degner said at a Tuesday evening school board meeting, and details of many districts’ plans are still in development.

Iowa school districts are preparing for three scenarios: a return to face-to-face instruction; continuing distance and online learning; and a hybrid of the two.

Superintendents for the Cedar Rapids Community, College Community, Linn-Mar Community and Marion Independent schools districts said in a joint statement Wednesday they will work with Linn County Public Health to support their safety plans and personal protective equipment needs for in-person learning.

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The statement did not offer details about mask or other protective gear requirements the upcoming school year.

“We realize there is much unrest with the ‘unknown’ and that our community would like information as soon as possible about the format in which students will be educated when we return in August,” reads the statement signed by Superintendents Noreen Bush, Doug Wheeler, Shannon Bisgard and Janelle Brouwer. “We will communicate with our families and community as soon as possible with those decisions.”

Cedar Rapids Superintendent Bush said in an email she hopes to share specifics of the district’s plan by July 27. The district is hosting town halls July 22 and 23 to share information with families and get feedback.

The Mount Vernon Community School District intends to share next Wednesday its reopening plans with its school board, Superintendent Greg Batenhorst said. The Solon Community School District’s plan is set to be presented to its school board July 16.

The state Education Department last week released its reopening guidance for schools, which included cautioning against instituting face mask requirements for all staff and students.

The two-page guidance was roundly criticized by school administrators and teachers across the state, and clarification was published Tuesday.

“Our guidance is not against the use of face coverings when feasible to reduce the spread of COVID-19,” department spokeswoman Heather Doe said in an email Wednesday. “What our guidance does say is that we do not recommend schools implement a broad policy that requires face coverings for ALL students and staff because of the considerable health and safety, legal and training implications for such a policy.”

Doe said state officials are continuing to have discussions with schools related to reopening and supplies needed to manage COVID-19.

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While the department acknowledges schools’ interest in “more information on how to address and handle potential outbreaks this fall,” she said, “public health experts are best positioned to address these types of concerns.”

Comments: (319) 398-8330; molly.duffy@thegazette.com

Grace King of The Gazette contributed to this report.

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If you believe local news is essential, especially during this crisis, please donate. Your contribution will support news resources to cover the impact of the pandemic on our local communities.

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