CORONAVIRUS

COVID-19 spread needs to get under control for Cedar Rapids students to return in-person, board says

Alburnett, Springville latest districts to apply for virtual learning waiver

Gov. Kim Reynolds meets with Cedar Rapids school officials including Superintendent Noreen Bush at Cedar Rapids Kennedy
Gov. Kim Reynolds meets with Cedar Rapids school officials including Superintendent Noreen Bush at Cedar Rapids Kennedy High School in Cedar Rapids on Friday, Aug. 14, 2020. The school has water damage from multiple holes in the roof. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Fewer staff absences, a health care system that is not strained and getting the coronavirus spread under control in Linn County are three things the Cedar Rapids Community School District is considering for students to return to in-person instruction after the two-week waiver for virtual instruction is up Nov. 30.

In a school board discussion Monday, Superintendent Noreen Bush said she hopes the district can announce by Nov. 24 its plan for learning moving forward after being granted a two-week waiver from the Iowa Department of Education.

The district started virtual learning Thursday, with plans to return in-person Nov. 30, if cases of COVID-19 are under control.

“We really need people to do their part,” Superintendent Noreen Bush said. “Although we want to say we’ll return to school on (Nov.) 30, it’s hard to say.”

The Department of Education only grants waivers two weeks at a time, and districts can reapply as needed. To qualify for a waiver, the county the school district serves must have a 14-day positivity rate of between 15 pervent and 20 percent, and 10 percent of students absent. Districts can also apply without the student absences if the county positivity rate is over 20 percent.

On Monday, Linn County’s 14-day positivity rate was 24 percent.

As of Friday, 82 students and 52 staff in the Cedar Rapids schools were in quarantine and 23 students and 24 staff tested positive for COVID-19.

School board member Cindy Garlock said schools are a reflection of what’s happening in the community.

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“I’m not sure the community is getting the message we need them to get,” she said.

“Wear a mask, social distance, that’s how we get our children back in schools, so it’s safe,” school board President Nancy Humbles said.

The school board also wants to advocate for local control to move between in-person and online instruction.

“Inclement weather is an administrative decision, and that’s a prime example,” Bush said.

Bush said getting approval from the school board at 4 a.m. to delay or cancel school for inclement weather would be a challenge.

“This is what districts are feeling in waivers,” she said. “The Department of Education has been supportive in most of those waivers. They’re being approved ... it delays the decision-making process.”

MORE SCHOOLS MAKE VIRTUAL MOVE

The Alburnett and Springville community school districts announced a move to virtual learning Monday, joining over half a dozen Eastern Iowa schools to transition learning as community spread remains rampant.

Alburnett applied for a waiver for two weeks of remote learning and is waiting for a response from the Iowa Department of Education. The district plans to start virtual learning Wednesday, with in-person classes canceled Tuesday, and a return to in-person learning Dec. 2.

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In a message to families Monday, Superintendent Dani Trimble said the district has reached a “critical point” in being able to maintain staff for in-person learning and 21 percent of staff and 12 percent of students are absent.

Springville starts online learning Tuesday, with an expected return to in-person instruction after Thanksgiving break.

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

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