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CR Schools Superintendent discusses remote learning and COVID-19 in district schools

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Cedar Rapids families should know by next Tuesday if the Cedar Rapids Community School District (CRCSD) will apply for another virtual instruction waiver or if students can expect to return to in-person classes after Thanksgiving.

Superintendent Noreen Bush said the district will be closely following three main metrics — staff absences, impact on the healthcare system and Linn County’s COVID-19 positivity rate — to determine whether or not CRCSD will apply for another two-week waiver from the Department of Education.

“It changes very, very quickly, so I think all of those things would need to be in consideration for us to absolutely consider Nov. 30 as our return date. We need to keep an eye on this very closely over the next week,” Bush said during Monday’s Board of Education meeting, adding that she is in contact with Linn County Public Health “multiple times a day.”

Linn County’s 14-day average positivity rate was 23.8 percent as of 10 a.m. on Wednesday, according to numbers from the Iowa Department of Public Health. Bush said the district wants to see the positivity rate go below 20 percent.

CRCSD applied for a waiver from the Department of Education on Nov. 10 to move to all-online instruction for two weeks due to the surge in cases and the increase in staff absenteeism. That waiver was approved the morning of Thursday, Nov. 12. Remote learning began on that Thursday and will continue through Tuesday, Nov. 24. Due to Thanksgiving, in-person instruction is scheduled to resume on Monday, Nov. 30, if another waiver is not requested.

In a news conference last week, Bush urged the community to wear masks and follow other preventative measures because the community surge in positive cases has “greatly affected” staff members and students.

CRCSD is currently reporting 23 positive cases of the virus among students and 24 positive cases among staff. A total of 82 students and 52 staff members are in quarantine, according to the district’s dashboard which was last updated on Friday.

The school board also discussed pressing Gov. Kim Reynolds to give school districts local control over making decisions of whether or not to go virtual. Board member Jennifer Borcherding suggested possibly drafting a letter with neighboring school districts “pleading our case and asking for the mandate to shift in focus so that it can better reflect what we need to do to keep our staff and students and families healthy.”

Bush mentioned that the Department of Education has been supportive of granting waivers but that the process delays when families can be notified.

“It’s very different, but inclement weather is an administrative decision, and that’s a prime example,” Bush said. “If I had to get in alignment with the seven of you at four o’clock in the morning at any inclement weather day, it would be a super big challenge. This is what districts are feeling right now when working with the Department of Ed trying to get waivers. I will say this, they’ve been supportive, the Department of Ed has been supportive for most of those waivers. … It just delays the decision-making process.”


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