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Business as usual, for now

CCA board approves application for online education waiver, if needed

OXFORD– It is business as usual, or at least as close to “usual” as possible, in the era of the COVID-19 virus for the Clear Creek Amana (CCA) Community School District– for now.
The CCA Board of Directors met in a special session Friday, Aug. 28, to approve a request by Superintendent Tim Kuehl for the authority to submit an application with the state to move to 100 percent online, virtual learning if it becomes necessary.
The board unanimously approved the request and parameters of an at least 15 percent positivity rate in Johnson County, and, a 10 percent absentee rate in the district due to the virus.
A high school student tested positive for the COVID-19 virus after attending a “large gathering” and the district was notified Wednesday evening, Aug. 26. In response, the high school closed with 100 percent virtual education on Thursday, Aug. 27, while district staff did a deep cleaning of the building. Athletic and extracurricular activities, including a varsity volleyball quad meet, were cancelled for Thursday.
Kuehl noted as of Friday, Aug. 28, Johnson County had a 19.5 percent positivity rate, however the district’s absenteeism rate was less than one percent.
Board member Michelle Emmel pointed out the high positivity rate is clustered around the University of Iowa, which recently saw a return of its students, and is primarily affecting people in the 18-24 age range. Emmel noted the district’s Return to Learn (RTL) plan offers parents the opportunity to choose virtual learning, for the semester, and the option is still available.
“Keep the big picture in mind,” she said urging rational response to the ongoing pandemic.
And, to the parents, teachers and staff, who have expressed their concerns over a safe return to school Emmel said, “We hear you and we’re listening to you.”
Board member Matt McAreavy noted the spike in the county’s positivity rate could scare some parents into keeping their children at home, to which Kathy Campbell, Director of Health Services, said some are doing just that, and those students are documented as an excused absence. These students do not factor into the absentee rate for the district.
McAreavy suggested rather than just keeping their kids at home, they should opt for the virtual option.
Board member Nikki Knapp advocated for revisiting previous RTL options, which featured more virtual instruction, even if it meant the possibility of having to make up instructional days later.
Under Iowa law, education must be at least 50 percent in-person and districts opting to go 100 percent virtual, without a waiver from the state, will see those days not counted toward the required 180 days or 1,080 hours minimum requirement.
Knapp suggested a more fluid way to proceed moving forward.
Kuehl noted the case leading to the one-day closure had many extenuating circumstances and added the district will not go virtual every time a positive case is discovered.
Board member Bob Broghammer agreed with the 15 percent positivity and 10 percent absenteeism rates but asked how long it would take to receive a waiver if the district pulls the trigger.
Kuehl responded the Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD) received approval for their waiver in less than an hour and noted districts have a 48-hour window of discretion.
In the event the thresholds are met, CCA could move to all-virtual education, either for an individual building or the district as a whole, for 48 hours without penalty while awaiting the state’s approval. He added two weeks of virtual education appears to be the norm in the event of a waiver being granted.
Board President Jennifer Mooney asked if the district could put the absentee rate on the website, updated daily or as-needed.
Campbell said they could but with the very low numbers currently, it would be sticky as it would be relatively easy for some to figure out who, even without the district violating HIPPA laws, which prohibit disclosing the names of infected people. Campbell reiterated absent due to illness includes colds, the flu and any of a myriad of other medical conditions other than the COVID-19 virus. Campbell also stated she has never seen a 10 percent absenteeism in the district even in the worst flu years.
A second case was reported to the district on Thursday, Aug. 28, which Campbell described as cut and dried as to the exposure and necessary contact tracing, determined in less than one hour. She added no CCA students were considered as exposed to the student.
The first case, board member Eileen Schmidt said, highlights how individual choices have serious consequences, ranging from closing a school to potentially quarantining a team/ending a sports season, in addition to the risk of exposing others to the virus. She also extended kudos to the high school staff in the handling of the unexpected day of virtual learning.
A brief survey of principals, participating online, showed the first week of the new school year went very well.
Brenda Parker at North Bend Elementary, in North Liberty, said the week, “Could not have gone more smoothly.” She noted students were doing great with mask requirements.
“I could not have dreamed it would go so well,” Parker added.
Brad Fox at the middle school said this year, his 30th in education, “Looks very different.
“All things considered, I can’t imagine a better start.”
Fox explained the transition period and classroom cleaning process takes place as “cohort” groups of students move about the building. When a group leaves a classroom, all desks, tables, etc. are sprayed with a disinfectant which is then wiped off. Meanwhile, the students follow a set path to their next classroom with passage timed to avoid meeting other groups. All rooms are also disinfected every evening.
“I think we’ve done the best we can,” Fox said.