HJ - Clarinda Return to Learn Plan

Clarinda Superintendent Chris Bergman reviews details of the Return to Learn Plan for the Clarinda Community School District over Zoom Friday, Aug. 31, as Board of Directors President Greg Jones, left, and Director Darin Sunderman attended the special meeting at the Clarinda Middle School Commons in person. Clarinda is schedule to start the 2020-2021 school year Aug. 24 and the Return to Learn Plan outlines how the school district will handle the continuing threat of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Herald-Journal Photo by Kent Dinnebier)  

Following a five month hiatus, Clarinda students are scheduled to return to the classroom Monday, Aug. 24, and the school district has a plan on how to keep them there.

During a special meeting Friday, July 31, at the Clarinda Middle School Commons, the Clarinda Community School District Board of Directors unanimously approved the Return to Learn Plan for the district for the 2020-2021 school year. A crowd of approximately 40 people attended the meeting with 10 of those being in person and the rest participating over Zoom.

The Return to Learn Plan for Clarinda was developed through the efforts of the District Leadership Team and various committees. Those committees consisted of administration, nutrition staff, custodial staff, human resources staff, members of the activities department and transportation staff. Guidance from state officials; state and local organizations; and parents and staff was also considered.

"I think it's really important to note all the people and the hours that have gone into this. Also know all the information we're going to share later is fluid. It will be current, but it will need to be revised if our situation in Clarinda changes or in our state. We just have to be very cognizant of the need for flexibility and adaptability," Superintendent Chris Bergman said as she attended the meeting via Zoom.

"This is a framework for how they're going to try to respond. It doesn't mean it's going to be a solution for every problem that comes up. It's hard to anticipate everything that's going to come up, but it does give us some guidance on how they're going to try to approach things," Board President Greg Jones said.

The Clarinda Return to Learn Plan identified three primary goals for the school district. Those goals are to keep students and staff safe while providing high levels of educational instruction in-person when possible.

As a result, Clarinda will start the year with onsite learning taking place in the classroom in accordance with guidelines from the Iowa Department of Education, the Iowa Department of Public Health and the Center for Disease Control. Some of those guidelines include wearing face coverings at certain times, following physical distancing practices when possible, providing hand sanitizer station at entrances, in classrooms and in common areas, providing frequent opportunities for hand washing and extensive cleaning and disinfecting of the buildings throughout the day and each night.

To assist with the additional demands on the custodial crew to clean and disinfect buildings, the board approved hiring a 0.4 temporary custodian. The position will be in place for six months and may be extended as needed.

Each day, the temperature of each student and staff member will be taken at the door before they enter a school building. Anyone with a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher will be sent home. Bus drivers and students riding buses on rural routes or Clarinda Lutheran School routes will have their temperature checked prior to getting on the bus. However, no in-town shuttle services between buildings will be available.

"Parents/guardians, on behalf of their student(s), are asked to screen them at home using a screening checklist coming from the Iowa Department of Education prior to the start of school, which does include taking the temperature of your child(ren) before sending them to school. Sending a student to school is a statement by a parent, guardian or caregiver that the student is symptom free," according to the plan.

When physical distancing is not possible, all students from pre-kindergarten through high school seniors, as well as staff, will be required to wear facial coverings over their nose and mouth. Times when such masks may be needed would include entering or exiting school buildings, in hallways when passing between classes, in lunch lines and at student activities. Face coverings would also be required on school buses for students and drivers alike along with the use of assigned seating.

During lunch, students will wear facial coverings while being served and staff will also wear face coverings. Both students and staff will also be asked to wash or sanitize their hands before and after being served. Physical distancing will be practiced in lunch rooms and students will be allowed to eat outside when possible. The district will start the year by serving "grab-n-go" breakfasts and lunches.

In order to achieve physical distancing, individual desks will be used and barriers may be utilized in some offices or classrooms. To assist with the physical distancing effort, the board approved the purchase of 230 tables, 190 desks and 190 chairs for use in classrooms. The total cost of the purchase was $82,480 with funding coming from CARES money provided to school districts by the state to assist with COVID-19 related expenses.

"We also thought about this as multi-use in the terms that we purchased the kinds of furniture we'd like to see in the future for flexible seating for our students. These desks are the ones similar to desks at the high school that are moveable, can be made into tables and have a lot of different purpose and functionality to them," Bergman said.

"I saw where you could put them together or keep them apart. They're flexible enough you can lock them together somewhat, so that's a neat idea. That's something we'll use beyond COVID," Jones said.

The district also encourages outdoor activities when weather permits. This would include outdoor breaks where students could remove their facial coverings and elementary recess.

Specials classes like physical education, music and art will also be held outside if weather permits. In the case of poor weather, physical education classes will be held in the gym and music classes in the music room where physical distancing is possible. Art classes and guidance would be offered in the students' classroom when necessary.

"Rather than having all the kids in a week, we had some super smart music teachers come up with the idea to do longer chunks, like a week of music or a week of art, so we would have less kids going in and out," Bergman said. "That idea went like lightning and fire across the state. I shared it at a meeting and everyone thought it was a really great idea."

As a final precaution to combat the spread of the virus, visitor access to the schools will be limited and monitored.

However, should a student or teacher test positive for COVID-19, the case will be referred to Page County Public Health.

"Any student or staff member testing positive will be asked to isolate for 10 days from onset of illness/positive test and three days fever free and symptoms resolving. Public Health will use the definition of close contact to determine who will need to quarantine," according to the plan. The timeframes outlined in the plan are based on current guidelines and could change.

Anyone determined to have come in close contact with the individual testing positive would be asked to quarantine for 14 days from last contact. "The current definition of a close contact is someone who was within 6 feet for 15 minutes or more to the COVID positive student/teacher," according to the plan.

The plan also calls for the district to provide online learning options for students with a serious health condition that would increase their risk of contracting COVID-19. These options would also be available if another person in the students' home, or one of their regular caretakers, is at higher risk.

Clarinda could also move to a combination of face-to-face and online learning or a strictly online learning format should a building or the entire district be closed due to public health conditions like those occurring in March that led to the ending of the 2019-2020 school year. Those decisions would be made "in consultation with the Department of Public Health," according to the plan.

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