On-line learning still an option, but hybrid plans will phase out early.
BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – The Fort Madison School board approved a revised 2020-21 schedule that will eliminate the hybrid learning plan starting Nov. 2.
The district had been rotating students in week-on, week-off instruction since the school year began, due to the impact of novel coronavirus. But at a special meeting called Monday, the board voted to change that schedule back to 100% face-to-face learning.
However, concerned parents still have the option to enroll students in on-line learning only.
Board member Brian Steffensmeier said parents are asking for the students to be back in school, but he’s hearing different from teachers.
“The community wants the kids back in school. The teachers were 50/50. I understand the teacher’s concerns, but it’s just best for the community, and best for the kids to have them back in school face-to-face,” Steffensmeier said.
Brad Menke said the three weeks before going back allows the district to develop plans.
Dianne Hope said most of what she’s hearing is supportive of putting kids back in school.
“I certainly know that we took a look at family situations and there are things happening here whether it’s food issues, it’s day care, its having grandparents in the family – there’s a lot of issues.”
She said communications through Facebook are supposed to be ignored, but it’s difficult when people write the board isn’t paying attention to what’s going on in the community, and not caring about students and teachers.
“That’s so wrong and in my mind is very hurtful,” Hope said. “No one alive right now has been through a pandemic in a leadership position. We are not just building an airplane as we’re flying it. We haven’t even got it off the ground. I don’t even know if it’s airplane.”
She said the district staff has done a good job of navigating these unknown circumstances.
“We’re not making this decision blindly. We also have to have a plan. What happens in a few weeks if this attendance goes differently? Are we going to be ready and nimble enough to go the other way. This is a tough decision. A very tough decision.”
Board president Tim Wondra said having students in class also helps the social and emotional well-being of the students.
“I think it will also help the kids in the classroom to reach a level of normalcy in their home life too, because parents won’t be stressed,” he said.
Board member Lois DiPrima expressed concerns about students who are in 100% online learning, not performing up to standard educationally or attendance wise.
“To me that child should be in the classroom,” DiPrima said.
Superintendent Dr. Erin Slater said the district’s truancy officer is involved when situations arise about students not attending when required online. She said the district has also been in touch with the Lee County Attorney’s office to make sure they are handling those cases appropriately.
Cory Byrne, president of the Fort Madison Education Association, the local teacher’s union, said teachers are supportive of the district’s action as long as safety is a priority for students and staff.
“Every teacher’s experience has been different, but I want to say that our teacher’s have a different prospective and understand what’s happening in the schools because they are on the front lines every day,” Byrne said.
He said teachers understand the achievement gaps that exists in hybrid learning and they want to come back to face-to-face learning when a safe plan is in place.
“The hybrid plans have come together well, but what teacher’s need are some very clear and consistent expectations that are transparent and that are consistent from building to building,” he said.
Byrne said the two biggest questions are how are teachers going to keep students and families safe, and how to continue developing online curriculum while serving a full class of students.
“That’s been a huge challenge for the teachers and affects the student’s education,” he said.
Data released by the district showed relatively low virus impact at the two elementary schools for face-to-face students since the beginning of the year.
Lincoln showed just one positive case among staff and that was from 9/21 to 10/2, and no positive cases among the students through Oct. 9. When the year started Lincoln had seven students in quarantine, which shrunk down to 2 on Sept. 11. No students were quarantined from Sept. 14 to Sept. 25. One student was quarantined from Sept. 29-Oct. 8.
At Richardson, no students have tested positive to date, but a high of 10 were quarantined from Aug. 31 to Sept. 4. The school has also had two staff members test positive. One was for one day to start the year on Aug. 21, and then another tested positive on Oct. 2.
Fort Madison Middle School has had three students test positive in face-to-face learning since the start of the year, and had a high of 13 students in quarantine from Sept. 29-Oct. 1. There were a high of 10 staff absent from Sept. 1 to Sept. 9, and that district has had at least 1 staff member absent every day this year.
The largest COVID impact has taken place at the high school. In face-to-face instruction, a high of 41 students had been quarantined from Aug. 26-27th with 42 students absent those days. As of Oct. 12 only two students were in quarantine. The highest daily total of positive cases was four from Sept. 22 to Sept. 25.
Among staff, the highest daily total of positive cases was Sept. 25 when 8 staff members had tested positive with 10 absent. As of Oct. 12 no staff were positive or in quarantine. However teachers in Iowa are defined as critical staff and are required to be at school if symptom free.