Students in Cedar Rapids schools will be required to wear face masks or face shields in classrooms and on the bus if they return to class this fall. The Cedar Rapids Community School District (CRCSD) is also looking at smaller class sizes, serving meals in classrooms and other measures to ensure appropriate social distancing.
The district is evaluating three potential options for the upcoming school year: in-person, online and a hybrid model of classroom and online instruction. CRCSD Superintendent Noreen Bush offered additional information during the Board of Education’s Monday meeting about what the district is planning and what families have expressed.
“During this pandemic, we’ve had to learn to remain flexible and nimble and change our plans quickly,” Bush said at the start of more than two-hour-long meeting. “But what hasn’t changed are our priorities of the safety and health of our children, of our staff and our community. So, really, that’s been the guiding principle as we’ve been looking at our return to learn plans.”
The district conducted a family engagement survey at the end of last month to get input from families on fall instruction. The district got a total of 5,157 responses from families.
Of those families, 54 percent said they are comfortable sending their students to school, 36 percent said they were unsure and 11 percent said they were not comfortable. The families who responded favored the in-person learning option followed by the hybrid plan. At-home learning was the least favored of the three.
Bush said the top concerns from families were students getting and spreading the virus, social distancing being difficult at school, school cleanliness, schools closing again and whether students will be able to move on to the next grade.
Bush discussed eight main priorities that will be looked at as the district continues to make its decisions on the upcoming school year. The first is giving parents a choice of whether or not to send their children to school in person, if that ends up being the district’s plan.
“If we are in person and if you’re not comfortable with that as a family, know that online and virtual learning will continue to be an option, and it will be more rigorous than it was in the spring,” Bush said.
CRCSD will require all students and staff members to wear personal protective equipment. The district will provide face shields and masks for every staff member, as well as masks for every student. Elementary school students will receive face shields, and there will be extra face shields for students who would benefit from one over a mask.
“For example, students who are deaf and hard of hearing need to see people’s lips move,” Bush said. “Masks don’t help students learning in that arena. … The best practice would be both things — the mask and the shields for our staff to wear. Depending on their work environment, if they’re a deaf and hard-of-hearing teacher, for example, they may not wear the mask. They may only wear the shields so students can see their lips as they instruct.”
Students will also be required to wear masks on the school bus, as well as sanitize their hands when they enter and exit the bus.
Measures will be taken to have students practice social distancing in the classroom and common areas, such as staggered arrival and dismissal times, staggered breaks and meals in classrooms or other less populated areas.
Other priorities Bush mentioned include frequent sanitation, hand-washing and lowering the staff-to-student ratio. There will be hand sanitizer in every classroom and it will be important for students not to share supplies, Bush said.
The district is looking at a ratio of 20 students to one teacher, but “if we could make it less than that, that would be ideal,” Bush said. Board member David Tominsky asked if outdoor classrooms will be encouraged.
Deputy Superintendent Nicole Kooiker said the district will “definitely encourage that for health and safety reasons.” The district is allowing principals to work with their staff on the details, but they know it’s an option when weather is appropriate.
The district will require staff to take their temperature and be symptom-free when they come to work, Bush said. Every school will be required to have two locations for illness for students.
“One would be if a student gets a bump or a scrape and needs to go to the nurse to get a Band-Aid versus another student is having symptoms that are potentially COVID-related,” Bush said.
If someone within a cohort tests positive, there will be immediate communication and the teacher and students will need to quarantine for 14 days. Students would then have virtual learning.
Deputy Superintendent Kooiker shared a draft of what students and families in elementary, middle and high schools could possibly expect come fall for in-person learning.
The elementary school model draft, all Pre-K to fifth grade students who return to in-person instruction would have a homeroom teacher. Each homeroom cohort would remain the same to limit contact between students. Specials teachers would rotate to the cohort for art, music and gym. There will also be a virtual option for students.
“We’re going to have some teachers due to health reasons that will not be able to return to school in the fall, and those teachers could be assigned into virtual classrooms mixed of elementary students and provide that virtual instruction as an option for also students or families that don’t feel comfortable or safe at this time sending their students on site,” Kooiker said.
Students in middle school who return to in-person instruction would be assigned an advisory teacher. Each advisory cohort would remain the same for at least three weeks, after which time teachers can rotate but the students will remain in the same group. There would be a component of virtual instruction so teachers won’t be responsible for teaching subjects they aren’t familiar with.
“So, for example, I’m a science teacher. I wouldn’t have to teach science and math and ELA to all of the students,” Kooiker explained. “But we’d have some of that virtual instruction occurring within that face-to-face model. … Advisory teachers will, as I said, facilitate that instruction delivered from those content teachers through that online instruction. They’d help facilitate that in the classroom and help with that ongoing instruction.”
The least amount of information was available for high school in-person instruction. The district is looking at an in-person hybrid model, but limited information was shared at Monday’s board meeting. Kooiker said developing the plans for high school is different due to the number of students, the certifications of teachers and the number of courses.
Linn County Public Health will release their guidance for schools during a press conference on Wednesday, Bush said. She added that after this guidance is released, CRCSD might have to adjust their plans.
The school year will stay the same length, according to CRCSD’s Return to Learn plan. The 2020-21 school year is scheduled to begin on Aug. 24 with no additional school days or hours added beyond what is required.
Staff feedback sessions and a second family engagement survey will happen this week. Next week, the district will be hosting virtual town halls to get more feedback from families. Registration for the virtual town halls is required in advance and space is limited to 80 participants.
The district will communicate to families by the end of July, or Aug. 1 at the latest, what return to learn plan will be implemented, Bush said. Following that, families will indicate if they will send their students to face-to-face instruction or virtual, which will help with staffing plans, Kooiker explained.
“This plan will be ever-evolving,” Board President Nancy Humbles said near the end of the meeting. “… I know what we’re looking for is we want what is best for our students, for our teachers, for our community, and it’s right now a moving target for us.”