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COVID mitigation strategies reviewed

School board hears report from administrators

Members of the Webster City School District administration outlined the current COVID-19 mitigation strategies Monday night during the regular meeting of the school board.

The board met in person at the administration building, with others taking part vi27 a the Zoom teleconferencing platform.

Superintendent Dr. Mandy Ross gave an overview of the current COVID-19 mitigation practices in place at all of the district buildings.

“We do daily monitoring with our staff. Each morning, as part of the morning routine, the staff members take their temperature and answer the COVID questions and submit that to Lea (Nicholson) and Cindi (Sweedler), our school nurses,” said Ross. “They look through those each day just to make sure we don’t have staff coming to school with some symptoms that could be related to COVID.”

The district also monitors the state and county COVID-19 rates.

“Those do have an impact,” she said. “The county rates can send us into remote learning by application to the Iowa Department of Education.”

Ross said staff and student absences are watched because that can identify trends. If there are 10 percent absences, the number is then reported to the county public health department. Staff and student rates of positive case and quarantine numbers are also studied. Those numbers are presented on the district’s new COVID-19 dashboard, located on the district website.

“It’s really trying to be more transparent with the community about what is going on so they know what our numbers are like,” she said. “What I think those numbers tell us is that our mitigation efforts have served our students and our staff well. We’re keeping those numbers down while everyone around us is having an increase in the numbers of positive cases and quarantines.”

At the elementary level, Ross said masks and face covering use is continuing.

“We’re doing as many accommodations as possible, keeping in mind that some of our students need to see the teacher’s entire face including their mouth when they are teaching reading,” she said, adding that English language learners also benefit from that.

She said the small classrooms provide challenges for social distancing, but overall seem to be working. Hand hygiene routines are continuing and the masking procedures at lunch and recess have been enhanced. When eating, the students remove their masks, but as the students leave recess or leave the lunch area, they are putting on masks again.

Sunset Heights Principal Kelli Reis said one of the best decisions was to buy lanyards for the students to attach masks.

“So if they take them off, the masks are right there with them at all times,” she said. “The kids have really liked that.”

She added that the school is going back and revisiting mitigation practices and expectations to combat COVID fatigue.

Similar mitigation procedures are going on at the middle school. Masks are worn as much as possible and until the student is outside. They have also added staggered locker routines as students started wearing coats to school to prevent too many students from gathering in the hallways.

At the high school, social distancing has been achieved through the cohorts — with the every-other day attendance. Ross said she had heard from some parents who felt the schedule was not working their child.

She said special embedded social-emotional lessons are presented at the high school. And a study table for students on alternate days has been established for those out-of-school learning days. According to Dan Johnson, high school principal, to date, only one student has attended the study table.

“But we continue to offer it to students and staff it,” he said.

A survey of students and another with parents have been sent out last Thursday, with a few responses already received.

Johnson said in the preliminary responses received from parents, between 65 and 72 percent of the parents thought the hybrid learning model was working with about 28 to 35 percent who said it was not working for their students.

The student survey showed 82 percent of the students felt the hybrid learning was working with 18 percent saying it was not.

Johnson said about 150 responses were received from parents and 150 from students.

He added there was still time for parents and students to respond and updated information would be presented at the next board meeting.

“I’ve heard concerns from parents,” said board member Linda Williams. “But if people are concerned, why aren’t they responding to the survey? Why aren’t they sending their children to the study table?”

Johnson said the survey may be resent to district parents and students.

The high school administrators also discussed the multi-tiered systems of support. Associate Principal Pat Farley talked about the program in place in which teachers can draft students for extra help, test makeups, guided study, for chances to relearn material and to extend and enrich learning. He said that students who are not drafted by a particular teacher can also reach out through the program, choosing the subject where they need extra help.

Ross said the district continues to monitor the pandemic situation and the mitigations employed at each building.

“We need to be fluid, flexible, nimble and responsive to the needs of our students under these circumstances,” she said. “We’ll continue to watch these things as we move forward and see at what point we might some other adjustments in our scheduling.

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