Schools prep for the unknown


North Scott schools will continue paying a district staff while scrambling to develop more at-home instruction and begin feeding children this week during Iowa’s virus shutdown.

Board members gathered privately in a meeting broadcast on Facebook to an audience of nearly 40. The accommodation was for health reasons, but the meeting drew far more viewers than usually attend.

“It’s been a hectic couple days, but you held things together,” board chairman Glen Keppy told superintendent Joe Stutting. “I think we made it through the initial stage. I’m not sure where we go from here, but we’ve made great progress.”

Key developments:

Meal deliveries begin  March 25, at sites throughout the district for any child through age 18, regardless of enrollment.

Daycare will resume at Grissom Elementary and other locations to serve essential workers, not just current clients or district parents.

Other district supplies, including 1,500 rolls of toilet paper and 12,000 latex gloves, have been inventoried and will be available for community use if the district does not need them this school year.

Work teams tackle challenges

Superintendent Stutting assigned administrative response teams to initiate those changes, and figure out education options this year and beyond.

“Let’s say we get back in session. We lost three weeks and kids are still going to move on. We’ll quit assessing kids. We won’t take all that time. We’ll focus on teaching only,” Stutting told The NSP Monday. “If we’re out longer than that, it will change things.”

Stutting said Iowa schools need a state order to establish online-only learning.

“We can provide resources, but you can’t make it mandatory, and you can’t grade it.

“So we need better guidance. If we extend our closing from three weeks to eight weeks, I would hope the state would say, ‘Let's get education going together from a homebound basis.’”

That will require significant adjustment for most North Scott families.

“We always complain about screen time. People don’t want their kids staying at home playing video games,” he said. “But one way to stay connected is a lot of screen time right now. There are lots of lessons we can learn long-term and short-term in any crisis.”

Education changes

The board on Monday approved a resolution that allows Stutting to continue compensating employees with paid leave, and adjust duties as needed during the shutdown.

Board member Joni Dittmer was absent.

It also allows him to alter policies without board approval, but Stutting said he intends to keep the board and community informed.

“This sets out clearly I’m to consult with school board. I like that wording in there. We’re working together as a team,” he said.

The district is awaiting state government permission to offer online classes, which is now prohibited for most districts. What those classes might look like depends on the duration of the shutdown.

“As we shorten up our school year, we’re focusing on essential learning so kids are prepared to move on to next year,” Stutting said. He said that instructional focus might diminish emphasis on testing.

He believes the district can adapt more quickly to online courses for high and junior high schoolers, who already have access through the Canvas system. The district has enough Chromebooks for fifth- through 12th-graders.

Younger students pose bigger challenges.

“We have to really think how we’re going to provide resources down to those students. We don’t have an online learning management system like we do at secondary level,” he said.

Options include instructional packets delivered to homes. “We’re working on it, hoping to get permission,” from the state, he said.

Another barrier is access.

Support at home is critical for online education success, and Stutting said he knows not all North Scott families have the online access, time or experience to coach their students.

“We don’t want to create a system different for haves and have nots,” he said.

“Parents who can afford to buy it are buying it. But not every family is in that boat.

“We’re a long ways from there.”

Daycare to resume

The governor’s order closed district day care operations, which were at Grissom Elementary, but Stutting said he expects that to change.

“We’re being pushed by the state to open day care, especially for essential workers in state. Grissom closed last week. Part of it was not enough kids show up. We’re talking today about getting at least one open up and focus on serving essential workforce, like nurses and doctors.”

District daycare director Theresa Tobin and assistant superintendent Michael Kline are developing the daycare plan.

But daycare will look different. “Now we’ll have to take the temperature of every kid coming in,” Stutting said. It also poses new questions: “Can we open one, or two schools for daycare? Which one? Should it be in the center of district where we have bigger buildings?”

Community supplies

North Scott schools are sitting on a treasure trove of at least 1,500 rolls of toilet paper school officials would love to share with the community if they’re not needed the rest of the school year.

While tasked with education and health concerns, the district also updated inventory and began gathering food staples from all schools in case community distribution becomes necessary. Food service workers on Monday began retrieving items from the elementary school kitchens.

“If we don’t come back in session, we’re thinking what are things we have that might be needed,” Superintendent Stutting said.

That includes 12,000 rubber gloves, and lots of hand sanitizer. “It’s just sitting in our buildings and could be used for a better purpose,” if school doesn’t resume, he said.

Returning prescriptions

The district also is developing a plan to return medications to students who left prescriptions at school. School nurses routinely dispense medications stored at the school. The lengthy break prompted some parents to ask for them back.

“So we needed a protocol. We bring them in, check their ID and make sure the right person is picking up the right medicine,” he said.