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Students in the Albia Community School District will be back in school in another two weeks in person, with a combination of direction from the Iowa Department of Public Health, the CDC and the governor’s office.

After a long discussion in a special meeting on Tuesday, the Albia Community School Board passed a resolution 4-3 (Linda Hoskins, Mallory Stocker and Mark Robinson voting no with Roger George, Craig Ambrose, Jeff Liston and Cindy Cronin voting yes) to support the administration’s plan to get students back behind their desks. “There is simply no question that in person learning is the best way for children to be educated,” said Crall. “If we have to, we can do a hybrid system and all virtual learning can be done, but it is our last resort.”

It is apparent a vast majority of parents and teachers are ready to get back to school. In telephone and on-line interviews done by administration, around 86 percent of parents want their children back at school. Almost 90 percent of teachers are either comfortable with returning to school or have some anxiety but will work it out. Just under 10 percent of the faculty has anxiety to the point of needing extra support to return to class.

For those parents and teachers who are feeling anxious about returning in person, Superintendent Kevin Crall said there will be on-line learning options and no penalty for parents who decided to enroll but keep their children home. Crall said the Family Leave Act should help teachers who may be at greater health risk of catching the COVID-19 virus.

There were some lengthy discussions about various parts of the Return to Learn. Masks will not be required, but “strongly recommended and expected” and wearing them on the bus or in places that social distancing is difficult will be required

“I’ve been wearing masks more,” said Crall. “I want to set an example. But I’m not a proponent of requiring masks. It is practically impossible to enforce. We’re going to have teachers and students with physician notes that say they can’t wear masks and we can’t share that (HPPA) with anybody.”

Wearing masks for younger children is something the American Academy of Pediatrics has come out against.

Returning to school will come with a number of new policies.

Children transitioning to new schools (second to third, sixth to seventh and eighth to ninth) will spend Aug. 21 getting comfortable with their new buildings. Parents will not accompany their children (like the old open house days).

The district has hired two more med-techs (Taelor Hunter-Francis and Stephanie Kosman-Baker) to help school nurse Carrie Selby cover every building at all times during the day.

Students will be expected to practice social distancing, will be encouraged to wear masks, group work will be minimized and the district will practice enhanced cleaning in all buildings.

The Instruction Leadership Team will be addressing “social-emotional” learning issues for students and faculty who may feel some anxiety about returning.

Transportation will look differently. “We can’t limit our buses to 13 students,” said Crall. “What we can do is have assigned seating, have bus drivers check temperatures of every child who gets on the bus and have just two kids to a seat,” he said. He said he will also propose limiting in town routes. The district owns fogging machines to disinfect buses.

Temperature scanners will also be used as students enter buildings. If a child has a fever, they will be sent home. “We’re going to get the message out to parents that if their child doesn’t feel well, they need to stay home,” said Crall. If a child does become ill, they will be immediately isolated from other students.

Principals at each building have been communicating closely with parents and so far six parents at Grant School have wanted more information about on-line learning, 11 at Lincoln Center and 21 at the junior high and high school.

Billy Strickler at Grant, Joellen Schwartz at Lincoln Center and Richard Montgomery at the junior high and high school all said few parents on those lists have made a definite decision to go on-line. Most are seeking information.

The discussion moved to the on-line curriculum and what it would mean for students and teachers. Montgomery said the junior high and high school plans to use a program called “Edgenuity On-Line Learning” to deliver classes to students staying at home.

That brought a line of questions from board member Linda Hoskins who had been under the impression that students taking the on-line option would get the same material as students attending school in-person. Montgomery explained his concern over overwhelming teachers with doing both in-person and on-line lesson plans with everything else going on in their classes. Montgomery said the Edgenuity on-line learning program has had proven success.

Superintendent Crall added that the goal of the school offering on-line classes is to keep students fully enrolled with the district and not move to home-schooling. He said the financial losses could be significant.

The board reviewed guidelines from the state in terms of when in-person learning should go to the hybrid or on-line learning. When county numbers of COVID-19 cases are between zero and five percent on average for a 14-day period, in-person learning is required. When it reaches between six and 14 percent, districts should plan for a hybrid system, but remain in-person. Between 15 and 20 percent with a report of 10 percent absent, then the hybrid should kick in. Over 20 percent would have schools requestiong a virtual learning environment.

Currently, less than one percent (13 active cases) are in Monroe County.

Superintendent Crall said that should a student test positive, it doesn’t mean the entire school has to shut down. “We can function class room to class room or attendance center to attendance center if we have an outbreak,” he said.

The school’s entire plan can be found on-line by going to the district’s website.

In other business, the board offered a contract to Jill Mick as a para-educator and accepted the resignation of Tanner Kellogg as junior high assistant football coach.

The first day of school is set for Aug. 25 with the first day of pre-school on Aug. 27.

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