IOWA CITY — As recently as Aug. 5 — just weeks before the start of the University of Iowa’s hybrid fall semester — more than a third of UI faculty and staff said they hadn’t yet decided whether to send their kids to school for face-to-face instruction when or if it’s offered.
Of 690 UI employees who responded to a “child needs assessment survey” — out of 1,204 faculty and staff with at least one dependent age 5 to 15, a 57 percent response rate — more than 37 percent said they would send their kids to school for hybrid learning if offered.
Many parents across Iowa City — home to the UI campus — lost that option for at least two weeks over the weekend when the Iowa City Community School Board voted unanimously to begin the fall term in an online-only setting, with COVID-19 cases surging across the community.
Only 28.6 percent of faculty and staff who responded to the UI child care survey conducted between July 30 and Aug. 5 said they didn’t plan to send their kids for any amount of in-person instruction, according to results of the survey released to The Gazette this week upon request.
Forcing the issue for the other UI faculty and staff parents who just lost their preferred option — at least for now — further complicates an already convoluted matrix of shifting work schedules and assignments, as hundreds of UI students have tested positive for COVID-19, resulting in isolation and quarantine orders and shrinking in-person attendance.
Fluctuating enrollments, attendance and student demands are requiring instructors — with their own family and child care issues to consider — to volley between virtual and in-person instruction and jump through hoops to make it happen, with requirements and processes changing.
“I just spoke with Dean Sanders, who told me there have been many concerns about discussion sections, dealing with absences and trying to accommodate those absences,” Warren Darling, chair of the UI Health and Human Physiology, wrote Sunday evening to lecturers in his department — referring to Interim UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean Sara Sanders.
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“I am apparently now allowed to approve a switch to hybrid, and she also indicated it is OK to do Zoom discussion sections with students working in breakout rooms,” Darling wrote.
In a follow-up message Tuesday, Darling informed instructors of some lower-level courses with fewer than 50 students — the previous bar for moving from in-person to online instruction — they now could move to a hybrid format without following a spelled-out approval process.
“The expectation is that, for the rest of the semester, the faculty instructors would determine the balance of (face to face) and online experiences, depending on the educational activity and student absence level,” according to the revised process.
Guidance issued last week via the university’s largest College of Liberal Arts and Sciences stressed, “At this point in the semester, we are encouraging instructors to make temporary changes.”
Meanwhile some students, faculty and staff members are protesting and launching virtual petitions pleading for the university to make an about-face on its decision for hybrid learning and shift everything back online, where it went during the spring semester when COVID-19 arrived in Iowa.
All the back and forth and semester unknowns were captured in the UI child care survey, including via one question asking what resources respondents planned to use this fall to accommodate “alternative learning scenarios impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Nearly 40 percent said they planned to use a “remote work” arrangement, but nearly 20 percent said they still didn’t know what to do. About 12 percent said they had a paid child-care arrangement planned, and 11 percent planned to take paid leave from work.
When asked about concerns regarding alternative learning for their children, UI parents seemed torn between health care and learning needs of their kids in this pandemic moment — with more than 90 percent listed as a top concern both the safety of their family and also the quality of their children’s education.
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Tying in their dizzying workplace demands, many also cited among their top five concerns, “ability to keep up with my work,” and “job security.” More than 37 percent cited “lack of flexibility at work” as a concern, and about 31 percent cited “access to quality child care” as a worry.
The UI survey asked respondents to identify what resources they would tap if offered, and more than 32 percent said they would use no-cost tutoring help — the highest percentage of the listed options, with just 14 percent saying they would use a financial-aid program.
The university last week acknowledged the unease created by area school district decisions to start the year online and listed options for faculty and staff parents:
• UI expanded its catastrophic leave program for employees with school-aged children affected by closures, hybrid learning or virtual-only education — or the medical need to keep kids home.
• It updated a list of local child care and tutoring resources.
• It made available more leave options for parents needing to care for kids during school closures, hybrid learning, or illness caused by COVID-19.
• It promised workplace flexibility for those needing to navigate the shifting demands of work and home life.
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