After Gov. Kim Reynolds’ proclamation Friday ordering school districts to educate 50% of their students in brick and mortar locations as opposed to distance learning, the Creston Community School District School Board discussed the district’s plan for returning to learn this academic year despite the ongoing threat of COVID-19 Monday evening in the board room of the administration building and via virtual means.
Districts had previously been tasked with designing plans after examining three potential models – full in-person, distance learning or a hybrid model – to prepare students and staff for different possible scenarios that could occur with the ongoing pandemic. On Thursday, CCSD Superintendent Deron Stender held a public forum to share the plans with the community to receive its feedback. However, after Reynolds’ proclamation, there were concerns over whether the plan would still be viable.
“A lot of the large metro schools, the larger school districts, are doing strictly online,” said Stender. “The legislature doesn’t like the idea that districts are going to maybe save money. They are watching and trying to figure out how they are going to recoup revenues that they are not getting and trying to minimize the expenditures on school districts. So that’s where that pressure came from.”
The proclamation also redistributed some responsibilities. While originally it originally gave school districts the decision as to whether or not to close in the event of an outbreak, the decision is now up to the Iowa Department of Public Health.
“What I don’t like now is that (the control) goes back to another agency of government that we have to go through if we feel it is necessary to close down,” said Stender. “Even our Union County Public Health would have to consult with the state before making those types of decisions.”
However, with the current proclamation, Stender said the district should be able to continue with the recommended hybrid model, with students having the option to receive their education in person or synchronously online, given the district still meets that 50% threshold. The online option is intended for those with concerns over the virus and are not intended to be an alternative option just for the sake of it.
“I hope our parents are not going to use this as an opportunity that, if they don’t like something, to go to an online education,” said Stender. “I hope it’s based on their safety, health and wellness.”
With the return of students only a month away, the district is focused on maintaining a healthy and safe atmosphere in all facilities. Along with the enforcement of social distancing and proper hygiene, Stender said sanitation will be expanded. The concept of temperature checks were discussed, as there was doubt among board members whether parents would properly take on the responsibility.
“As much as we are spending, spending quite a bit, and I do think they need to be back in school ... I’m not against having a protocol where we assure that those children stepping foot into our classrooms do not have a fever,” said CCSD School Board President Galen Zumbach. “Thinking that mom and dad will take care of it, I just don’t think that some parents will.”
However, no decision was made, due to the cost of implementing such measure and the time it would take to enact every morning.
“Between 7:30 and 8 a.m., we are taking in 1,600 people, between employees and students, and through different modes, between our transportation, self transportation,” said Stender.
The district has hired another custodian to assist with the increased workload. Additionally, Plexiglas dividers and several new lunch tables were purchased in order to promote social distancing during meals.
“We thought we could do the Plexiglas and divide the kids up into sections, but they can’t be seated (that way),” said Stender. “They still have to be placed six feet apart.”
The unprecedented cost of these measures has impacted the district’s budget, said Stender.
“This is not chump change, this is big bucks,” said Stender. “And it’s things we are not going to be able to sustain underneath our current funding model and our revenue base.”
Currently, the district is working with FEMA in regards to potential financial assistance, and Stender said there have been discussions over the possibility of more state and federal funding for schools, but currently no measures have been taken.
In response, the board declared flexibility to be the key issue in their annual legislative priorities. Stender said flexibility over the allocation of funds and actions taken by the district would reduce strain and risk during the pandemic.
“We are trying to do the best we can with what we have,” said Stender. “We are committed in making sure that regardless of which setting you choose to have your student receive their learning in, we want it to be the highest quality, the best instruction with engaging content, and for them to be successful.”
In other school board news, the board:
• unanimously approved to pursue a grant from FEMA to construct a new storm shelter safe room in the Early Childhood Center.
• unanimously approved the revised handbooks for the 2021 academic year.
• unanimously approved the district’s legislative priorities for the 2021 fiscal year.
Stender will be hosting a meeting 6 p.m. tonight inside the auditorium at Creston Community High School. The meeting will be streamed online through the Creston Panthers’ Facebook page.