UPDATED 11:30 a.m., Wednesday, July 22, 2020 to include the board's decision to hold a public forum and not vote on masks.
North Scott schools will hold a public forum 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Tuesday, July 28, in the high school cafeteria for families with questions about the district’s return to learn plan.
Superintendent Joe Stutting on Wednesday said the board also reversed a request at Monday’s meeting to hold a public vote on requiring masks. He said board members, in a series of one-on-one phone calls Tuesday, decided against voting on the issue and affirmed the superintendent's ability to make the call.
Stutting said Monday, and again in Wednesday’s interview the district will require masks.
“When school year starts, we’re requiring masks. We require visitors to put masks on in our facilities,” he said. “We would expect and hope people would be wearing masks,” at Tuesday's forum, too, he said.
The forum is intended to address questions about the entire return to learn plan, which will provide in-class instruction to all, and an online alternative to parents who ask.
Stutting said the forum will be in-person and will not be streamed on Facebook, as board meetings have been since April.
School board chairman Glen Keppy on Wednesday said he welcomes public feedback at Tuesday's forum.
“There are so many different forms of information coming from all departments, the county, the state. We just want to make sure we talk it through with the public and make decisions including their input.”
He said he supports Stutting’s mask requirement.
“I’m comfortable with the superintendent making that call. Everythign is so fluid right now, it’s unreal, and nobody knows what’s right,” he said.
At Monday, July 20th board meeting, Stutting told board members any decision on masks will draw complaints. He's exercising caution, and focusing on retaining students by favoring maks.
“We will lose more people to online as a result of not requiring masks than we’ll lose to online by requiring masks,” he told board members meeting Monday.
He said Pleasant Valley, Davenport and Bettendorf will likely vote on it. “That’s another discussion this board will have to have. It is a very public, political decision to make, so it goes beyond policy.”
In her proclamation, Reynolds said that school districts “shall take all efforts to prepare to safely welcome back students and teachers to school in-person this fall.”
Her action comes as school districts across the state are wrestling with how to plan for the fast-approaching school year with COVID-19 cases on the rise. Some school districts, including Iowa City, had already decided to start the year online.
Stutting wishes the state would have communicated with school districts earlier.
“I would have liked to have known these were the parameters two months ago, so we wouldn’t keep telling our community that the district will decide,” he said. “The issue was now taken out of our hands, and I feel that it tells people we didn’t know what in the heck we were doing.”
While local school districts may not have a choice, that’s not the case with parents. Reynolds’ proclamation clearly states that parents or guardians have the right to say that they want their child to learn remotely, even if their home school district is face-to-face.
In a survey of North Scott parents last month, it was determined that 78 students would be learning online no matter what. Parents will be surveyed again before the start of the school year.
As was reported in last week’s NSP, the school district is working on a plan to accommodate the learning needs of those students.
At least for now, Stutting said that North Scott will continue down the path it has been treading.
“We always hoped that students would return face-to-face,” he said, “but now it looks like that decision will be dictated by the state.”
Until the governor’s proclamation, North Scott was planning to offer families a choice of online, or in-class instruction. The governor’s order forced a change of plans. Stutting said the governor's order means the district cannot provide it without parents asking.
“It appears to me that the state took away the local decision making option in terms of going online,” Stutting said Friday, after reading the proclamation. “This is a major change. They go from one extreme to the next. What this says to me is that the state wants to make the decision as to whether or not schools can go to online learning.”
On Monday, board members discussed the impact of the governor’s back-to-school order in a closed meeting streamed live on Facebook, as they will Tuesday.
All board members were present. Only Joni Dittmer wore a mask.
Stutting said the governor’s order left Iowa school districts struggling with unanswered questions.
“We’re waiting for guidance from the state, on what happens if a kid tests positive in a classroom. Who is quarantined? What does that mean? So far, they haven’t given us any guidance,” he told The NSP Friday.
“What they have said is to contact your local health department. Even the local health department says that unless the person is less than six feet away, without a mask, for more than 15 minutes, then there is nothing to worry about.
“To me, that’s a pretty narrow expectation for whether or not you need to be quarantined.”
Stutting had planned to require masks and initiated many other changes.
“This week we found out from the state, and finally got confirmation, that school districts can require masks as long we provide them to kids who need them,” Stutting said Friday. “We are going to ask students to bring their own, but we’ll have a supply. We have 10,000 on hand right now.
“We also have face shields, and we ordered more because some students and staff will need to use face shields instead of masks. We will encourage people to provide their own masks, because they can go out and purchase what they feel comfortable wearing.”
The requirement of face coverings would be just one of many new regulations that students and staff will have to follow when school resumes.
Stutting said the district will have increased hygienic and disinfectant routines, with more areas being cleaned with electrostatic sprayers. Custodians will wear face shields and gloves, and food servers will use gloves, masks and shields.
District staff began clearing classrooms this week of cabinets, tables and other furniture to make more room to spread out desks. Stutting told board members the extra 3 to 5 feet between desks falls short of CDC recommendations for masks if closer than 6 feet.
“Even the governor herself, though she says she won’t require it, go to her website and it says ‘Mask up,’” Stutting told board members.
As a result of the governor’s order, Stutting said elementary classrooms will look quite different.
“It’s kind of ironic, but our classrooms will now look like the 1940s, with rows spread out. They want us to put kids in rows all facing one direction and as far apart as we possibly can. Flexible seating does not work in this situation.”
Stutting also said that carpeting that has been used in some classrooms is being rolled up and stored.
“You just can’t put 24 kids into a 12x12 space,” he said, “so there’s no reason to have it.”
Lunch schedules and bus seating
Stutting said that schools will also be adjusting lunch schedules and spreading out tables in cafeterias. On Monday, high school staff moved lunch tables into The Pit, and lobby areas.
He said families should expect assigned seating on all school buses, where students will sit in the same seat each day, and buses will be loaded from back to front to reduce student interaction.
The district will also limit the individuals who have access to the building during the school day. Visitors, including parents, will not be allowed, and parents will be asked to simply drop off their children at the door.
In addition, students will not be allowed to take field trips.
He promised choir and band classes, but said students may be in smaller ensembles. Choir members will wear masks.
He also said districts might remain liable for infections linked to classrooms. “The state passed protections on liability, but the only problem is that for schools and public entities, it says if you don’t substantially follow CDC guidelines, you can be liable. The CDC recommendation is to wear masks,” he said.
He said a continuing spike in infections could prompt the district to ask the governor to waive the in-school requirement. He told board members that he favors coordinating with other Scott County districts if that need arises.
“If we went to the state and asked for a waiver, and if Davenport, Bettendorf and Pleasant Valley are not asking for waivers, they’d say, ‘Why won’t the others?’ I think all four districts and the Scott County Health Department are going to have to get together to say, ‘We want a waiver.’”
Stutting also feels that decisions are being made with political implications in mind.
“The hard part is that it has become so politicized, because the economy is so wrapped up into it,” he said. “I understand that it should be, but opening schools has now become the political battleground. Should schools open? Should you wear a mask?
“That makes it harder to make decisions, because now we’re making decisions not necessarily off of information from the health experts, but from economics people and things like that.”
Board members meeting Monday offered no opinions on requiring masks. But board chairman Glen Keppy said he’d defer to the superintendent. “I’m looking at a guy pretty good at making decisions. That’s the way I’d like to see it.”
School board members probe return-to-school plan
North Scott school board members meeting Monday raised questions about next semester, including some posted by people watching the meeting on Facebook. Here are their questions and Superintendent Joe Stutting's answers.
Q: Board member Joni Dittmer asked how parents might get mask waivers for their children.
A: Stutting said parents can seek medical waivers at registration, and that the district cannot ask about a student’s personal medical condition. He said the district will have plenty of masks.
“We bought face shields for all staff, and an extra 250 for students who might need it … People who say they can’t wear masks for health reasons, hopefully a face shield will help.”
Q: Board member Tracy Lindaman asked if parents should pack lunches.
A: “It’s actually better for us to feed kids. We have a great plan for serving effectively. It’s more about distancing,” at lunch, Stutting said. “You can’t wear a mask while you’re eating.” Some elementaries will have kids eat in classrooms as well as gyms. The high school will move lunch tables into The Pit, and entrance lobbies.
Q: Board chairman Glen Keppy asked about drinking fountains, which will be restricted.
A: Drinking fountains will be used only to refill bottles brought from home. “We’ll find bottles or cups. We’re encouraging students not to use drinking fountains.”
Q: Board member John Maxwell asked about the district’s policy on guests.
A: Stutting said, “No guests. No parents. We’re not expecting anybody coming into our building. It’s a major change and, hopefully, short term.
Q: Board member Mark Pratt asked about a quarantine period for those who have temperatures.
A: Stutting said the new recommendation is to be fever-free for 72 hours, not 24. “That’s the new recommendation. We know that’s hard. But if we want to be back face-to-face, there are things we have to do now.”
Q: Board member Molly Bergfeld asked about hand sanitizer options for kids who might have allergies, and ventilation changes.
A: Stutting said the district will stick with its sanitizer supplier, and use electrostatic sprays to help it adhere to hard surfaces. “We’ll be cleaning more, so it will probably be in the air more. Buses will be cleaned multiple times,” during the day.
He said the ventilation focus is on “the maximum amount of turning over air.” He said tighter filters impede air handling and don’t work with the school’s HVAC systems. “So our goal is to turn over air as fast as we can.”
Q: Board member Joni Dittmer asked how often teachers will have to sanitize classrooms and materials.
A: “The junior and high schools will be different because they’ll have new kids coming through each hour.” In elementaries, “We’re going to try to avoid sharing any type of items between kids.”