School districts seeing variety of COVID impacts

BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
PCC EDITOR

FORT MADISON – The two public schools in Lee County are seeing different impacts from the coronavirus three weeks into the school year.

Central Lee Superintendent Dr. Andy Crozier, said the Central Lee High School had to go to a hybrid learning model last week due to an increase in the COVID-19 cases within the district’s students and staff.

Crozier said the move will remain in place initially for two weeks to help reduce the spread among the high school building.

“A lot of that was because we were on the front end of some cases. We had four student cases as of Friday of last week and two staff, and all were at high school,” Crozier said.

“We are aware of the potential for more cases over the weekend. Obviously we have a number of students in quarantine.”

Crozier said a group of students road together to the Central Lee football game in Van Buren last week. He said one person was positive and the whole vehicle was infected.

But he said the decision to move to hybrid learning was a blessing all things considered.

“Half of our kids can now space out and social distance in the classroom. If we do have additional positive cases, we shouldn’t have to quarantine because we can avoid the six feet for 15 minutes tracing requirement,” he said.

Crozier said currently there are six positive cases at the high school and all of the students are experiencing mild symptoms and doing very well. He said one teacher and an associate in the K-8 building have tested positive.

“We made the decision to move that specific classroom to online. We couldn’t make a determination who was truly in contact, but beyond that that we have not heard of any other students infected in that class,” Crozier said.

The district’s decision to start the year with 13 classes in the K-8 building to remote learning sites seems to have helped keep the coronavirus at bay for the younger students.

Having just half the students on site in the Fort Madison Community School District is showing positive results for students and staff there.

Aside from some activity prior to school starting, the district seems to be sidestepping the virus.

The district is conducting the first trimester in a hybrid model with half of the students on campus and half doing online learning on a week by week rotation.

“We have not spiked or peaked with any current issues with COVID. We did have some issues right prior to school starting,” said Superintendent Dr. Erin Slater.

“But that’s a bit different then when students are in session.”

Slater said the decision to start in the hybrid model wasn’t reached easily, but said because there was no way to tell where people were going to pick it up, the board decided to start in a safer learning environment.

“Honestly, that was not an easy decision and was complicated for scheduling for parents and families,” Slater said.

“We intentionally did it for a trimester so families could plan for a chunk of time. We’ll get more information out to the district and community as soon as we know what were looking at as far as a learning model for the second trimester.”

She said the coronavirus has added another layer to monitoring the district does in the morning.

Slater said before she even arrives at school, she’s checked the Iowa Department of Public Health’s website for the 14-day positivity rating for Lee, Henry and Des Moines counties. The district has students from all three counties.

Then Slater said she still has to monitor the weather for heat, because two of the district’s elementary buildings still don’t have air conditioning.

Then she said there is elevated conversations electronically and over the phone to get building updates on any new activity. Only one building has had an absentee rate higher than 10% and that was just one day. She said other than that, the district has had good attendance and little activity.

Buildings with higher than 10% absentees, must be reported to the state.

The district’s website has the most up-to-date information and Slater said people should go there first when they have questions or concerns about district protocols and monitoring information. The website is located at www.fmcsd.org.

Crozier said he hasn’t spoken with nurses this much since becoming a superintendent. Now the team communicates daily monitoring numbers locally and from the state.

“I talk to my nurses more this year than I ever have in my career,” he said.

“Nurses are great people often times dealing with stomach aches and headaches and that kind of thing. Very rarely we were having conversations, and now daily were talking about this.”

He said the district hired an additional nurse this year and that has helped the district do contact tracing on their own for students and staff that may have come into contact with the disease.

“We spend a lot of time on that. The county health department doesn’t do our tracing, they handle anything outside the school. But we do not wait for them to intervene, we get right after it.

No additional athletic schedule changes are being discussed currently by either school.

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