A Return to Learn plan for 2021-2022 in the Clarinda School District was approved by the Board of Education at a special meeting Aug. 16.
Created with input from administrators, teachers, nutrition and custodial staff and the school nurse, along with representatives of the Page County Public Health Department, the plan has three primary goals -- to keep students and staff safe; to provide high levels of instruction; and to enable the district to remain in an “in-person” instructional model when possible.
Commenting after the meeting about the strategy for developing the plan, Superintendent Chris Bergman noted that “any time you can involve a variety of stakeholders, you’re going to come to a better solution.”
She added: “The approach we took this time was, we started small, just because there were so many different guidelines and things to consider,” and those individuals involved wanted to make sure “we had all the right information in front of us.”
Initially, an administrative team prepared a draft covering what the district intended to accomplish with the plan.
“Then we do what we call a ‘stranger test’, having somebody read it who has not been involved in the conversation to see if it makes sense and to see what questions” may arise,” Berman said.
Revisions in the draft were made as necessary and “our last look at it was [by] our building leadership team, so we had our teachers look through it,” Bergman said.
“One of the most important things to remember is that a Return to Learn plan is similar to setting policy by a board,” she said. “It provides expectations and a direction for something, and then it requires our best professionals, teachers and administrators alike, to problem-solve and to apply those guidelines in various situations.”
The district incorporated advice from its legal counsel and guidance from the Iowa Department of Education to formulate the plan.
Among its components are provisions related to masking. Last spring Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a law prohibiting local school districts from implementing mask mandates.
In the Clarinda district, masks will be available for staff or students, and officials strongly encourage employees and students to wear masks on buses and in school buildings.
In accordance with the plan, students will be met at the doors of school buildings and parents will not be allowed in before and after classes. Parents or guardians who want a student to be let out from school early will have to call the school upon arrival. Students will be released from the building to walk to a vehicle.
Scheduled visitors to buildings will be limited to those individuals invited by school personnel to support particular learning needs.
Each day, classrooms, lunchrooms and other areas will be disinfected. Included in the cleaning will be manipulatives, hard surfaces and high-touch areas such as door handles. Classrooms will be deep-cleaned on Fridays and as needed throughout the week. Improved HVAC systems have been installed in district buildings to improve air quality.
Students are urged to practice handwashing and sanitizing routines at school, at home and in community settings.
They are also directed to stay home if they are sick, and parents are being told not to use fever-reducing medications prior to sending a child to school.
In district buildings, staff members will send a student exhibiting symptoms to the nurse’s office immediately. A family member will then need to pick up the student promptly. Temperatures will not be taken upon entrance to school buildings.
Sharing of school supplies will be limited and students will keep coats, backpacks and related material in lockers. Students can bring bottled water to school and can utilize cups and fill stations in each building as a way to stay hydrated.
Lunch tables will be physically distanced as much as possible, and students will eat in the commons and other indoor areas, and also outside. Self-serve items will be pre-packaged and will also be available as a “grab-and-go” option.
Participants in band and vocal music activities will follow recommendations of the Iowa High School Music Association, and all athletes will adhere to respective recommendations of the Iowa Boys and Girls Athletic Associations.
Bergman said the plan as approved could be revised during the 2021-2022 term. During the previous school year when Return to Learn protocols were in place, she noted, officials “looked at the plan weekly. We amended it and changed it, and had special meetings when we needed to.”
She described the current plan as being “fluid” because, she said, “we’re always going to need to be responsive” in order to do what is required to “keep our kids healthy and safe, and our teachers as well.”
The district has a home COVID test available through Page County Public Health. Consent from a parent or guardian is required in order for a test kit to be sent with a student. There is no cost for families to utilize this service.
Meanwhile, the district officials are considering the possibility of scheduling vaccination clinics for staff and students.
In other business at the Aug. 16 meeting, the board approved the hiring of Ed Sebeniecher as a bus driver for the 2021-2022 school year.