Allamakee Community School District intends to begin school year with in-person learning at each school but has alternate plans in place as well

School year is scheduled to begin August 24, with registration beginning next week

by Brianne Eilers

As the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year approaches, parents and students are wondering what the new school year will look like. While the Allamakee Community School District (ACSD) has not made a firm declaration as to how learning will take place yet, the district did have to submit a Return to Learn plan to the State of Iowa by the beginning of the month of July addressing on-site learning, continuous (or virtual/online) learning and a hybrid of both.

ACSD Superintendent Jay Mathis noted that the decision as to the best approach to educating students for the upcoming school year during the COVID-19 pandemic situation is not an easy one to make with so many factors to consider. District leaders have been working with public health entities and keeping an eye on the COVID-19 case numbers. The district also scheduled a work session for Wednesday, July 29 at 7 a.m. to further discuss school reopening options.

Mathis said that the district is intending to host students in person as the school year begins August 24, but also knows that there must be some flexibility and an ability to transition to different methods if circumstances dictate. There are still some details that will need to be worked out, but Mathis said he is hoping they can have kids in school this fall in as normal of an approach as possible.

He has also been listening to public input, and he says the majority would like to have their children in school. He knows there will be some aspects that will have to be figured out in a short amount of time, as experience with this pandemic has proven that circumstances can change just as quickly. Whatever the resulting situation, Mathis noted that district leaders hope the public will be flexible, cooperative and continue to communicate with the school district.

IN-PERSON LEARNING
Ideally, students will be able to be in classrooms this fall. Mathis noted that for the teachers, this is the easiest way to instruct students and carry on day-to-day procedures, but he also realizes it is the most difficult for safety precautions.

“We’re making decisions with our staff,” he said. Staff and students will have to be conscious about washing and sanitizing hands, as well as disinfecting classrooms. A few details will still need to be figured out, such as if students will eat lunch in a classroom or a cafeteria and the social-distancing procedures that will have to be in place.

Mathis also said they are considering staggering passing times in the schools that have students changing classes. “That would keep the hallways less crowded,” he noted.

They are also debating if they should have teachers for certain classes, for example art class, come into classrooms or if students will go to the designated art room. There may also be times that students are required to wear masks, such as in hallways or on buses. Back-to-school supply lists include washable masks this year.

Many of those details for classrooms and students will likely vary between the district’s school buildings and will begin to be fully ironed out once the district’s principals officially report to their buildings August 3. The custodial staff at all buildings has also been gearing up for extra cleaning and disinfecting of buildings and classrooms.

“We want to try and keep things as normal as possible,” Mathis said, adding, “The goal is to be able to bring kids back to school.”

VIRTUAL/ONLINE
If the circumstances change and call for virtual/online learning for students instead of in a classroom setting, Mathis noted that this would be mandatory for students and not voluntary, as it was this past spring with the pandemic first began. Teachers would be having graded activities weekly as well as regular communication with students and their families.

Even with the virtual/online learning approach, teachers would still be required to come to the school buildings and hold regular office hours. Having teachers in the buildings also makes it easier for administrative staff to monitor and help out in any way they can.

“It’s not the same as face-to-face learning, and it’s not ideal,” Mathis noted, saying he hoped that they could keep the virtual/online option to a minimum.

The schools will work with students who do not have internet access or reliable internet access. Teachers could opt to send home worksheets and book assignments for students who have such access issues.

“Hopefully, we would keep the lunch and breakfast programs going as we have been, as long as that’s allowed,” Mathis added in regard to the online learning option. He also said they would try to figure something out for lunch and breakfast programs in the event of hybrid learning.

HYBRID LEARNING
The hybrid learning situation would be the one that presents the most logistical challenges for the district, according to Mathis. The hybrid situation would involve some students doing on-site learning and others doing online learning on certain days of the week, and then switching that learning location for students for other days of the week.

There are a lot of factors to consider, especially if students would be in a situation where they attend classrooms every other day, for example. Mathis noted that the administration understands this would not be ideal for families needing to find daycare, that it’s not an ideal social situation (friends may not be attending school the same days or times), and the schools would still have the same issues with lunchrooms, buses and hallways.

“We’re going to have to be flexible and open to new ideas,” Mathis said.

PARENTAL CHOICE
Mathis stated that school district administration understands that there may be situations where families are not comfortable or may be unable to send kids to school, and that they will work with those families to ensure the students are still able to learn the same materials as their peers. Mathis said these families will be required to fill out a form in order to have their student excused from attending in-person learning, and that form will be available during the school registration procedure set to get underway in early August (see the school registration advertisement on Page 8 in the July 29, 2020 edition of The Standard).

“We will respect a family’s decision, but the kids still have to do schoolwork,” he said. “We respect that people are at different comfort levels.”

ACSD officials have been working with public health officials to get through the recently completed summer sports seasons, and they will continue to work with public health agencies both prior to and throughout the school year.

“Our hope is to have on-site learning on August 24, and hopefully a normal school calendar,” Mathis said. The complete ACSD Return to Learn plan is available for viewing on the Allamakee Community School District website, www.allamakee.k12.ia.us.
 

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