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Board votes to submit waiver for remote learning

If approved, remote learning would begin Monday

The Webster City school board voted Monday to submit the waiver application to the Department of Education which would move the district to remote learning for the period of Nov. 30 through Dec. 11.

The board met at the school administration building with some board members and the public dialing into the meeting via the Zoom teleconferencing platform.

Classes in the district were canceled for this week to allow teachers and staff members to prepare for remote learning.

“The numbers (of positive COVID-19 cases) here in Hamilton County have risen substantially since the beginning of the month,” said Dr. Mandy Ross, superintendent of schools.

The district began charting the number of students and staff members who were quarantined due to possible exposure to the virus along with the number of students and staff who had actually tested positive. The dashboard, available on the district website, also gives the current positivity rate for the county.

“What’s not readily obvious in those numbers is the challenge of keeping our classrooms staffed as our teachers, paras and other staff are quarantined due to close contact or being positive themselves,” she said.

Ross said she initially hoped that the district could move to a hybrid model with all grades, much like what has been done at the high school, giving the building principals more flexibility to combine classes and move into larger spaces.

“However it quickly became apparent that staffing, as well as combining students who had been previously in a cohort was a challenge that could not be solved by the hybrid model,” she said.

She said that over the weekend, five more staff members were sent into quarantine.

“In order to allow the staff and students time to get healthy, I’m asking the board to approve our application to move to 100 percent remote learning for all Webster City schools from Monday, Nov. 30 through Friday, Dec.11,” she said. The plan would then be to return Dec. 14 to the previous delivery model of in-person learning for the elementary and middle school and the hybrid model that has been used at the high school.

She added that during the remote learning period, the district would continue to monitor student and staff illnesses and positivity rates. She asked parents to reach out to the district as they normally would if a child was sick and unable to attend school.

Ross said she wanted the community to know that she doesn’t make the request lightly.

“The board and I have to take into consideration what is best for over 1,700 students and their families as well as 300 employees,” she said. “Over 2,000 people depend upon our decisions and we have to make the best decisions we can for everyone involved.”

The teachers will be delivering the remote instruction from their classrooms so that they can be close to the materials they need and to use the district’s wi-fi. Ross said that if teachers are in quarantine and still are well enough to teach, they would be able to teach from home.

She added that the principals will work with each para educator make sure they can do their role as much as possible.

Several of the building principals took part in the Zoom meeting and told the board they are working to be sure the instruction is delivered the best way possible for their students.

“We’re trying to get Zoom times to be separated a little for families,” said Jama Hisler, director of teaching and learning. “We tried to vary some of that so that families with multiple children in the homes — we know Zoom is effective, but with a lot people on it at once, there is some lag.”

Hisler the plans look good on paper but there may be some kinks to work out as the remote learning gets started.

She said the lessons will be recorded so that they can be accessed in the evening children are in daycare during the day.

Jessica Hector, principal at Northeast Hamilton Elementary, said the classroom teachers are very connected to their students.

“They have reached out to almost all of their kids today,” she said. “They will be making daily connections with their kids either through the platform, or through a phone call or whatever means it takes.”

She added that the teachers also know about the family situations of each of the children.

“It’s incredible the amount of planning and connecting our teachers have done their students and families to be prepared for this.”

The board voted unanimously to submit the waiver application.

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