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Cedar Rapids Community School District discusses ‘Return to Learn’ plan, family input

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KWWL) -- Everyone is anxious for the school year to start but the question is what will it look like and how will districts keep students and faculty safe?

The Cedar Rapids Community School District explored its options and what families have indicated an interest in during a Monday board meeting, last night.

With little guidance from the Department of Education or state of Iowa, it's up to each individual district to come up with a plan.

While nothing is finalized, the outline gave some insight into what options may be available to families come August.

Right now, the CRCSD is working on plans to provide families three options including distanced and online learning, a hybrid option, and on-site learning.

Noreen Bush, CRCSD Superintendent said during the board meeting the district is looking to families to help inform the plan.

"Our community is telling us on-site learning is the best option, they'd be okay with a hybrid model but again some concerns about managing family life," said Bush.

According to a return to learn survey in which 5,157 families completed, 54% said they were comfortable returning to school, 36% said they are unsure, and 11% said they are uncomfortable.

No matter the path forward, an online option is a must, especially for teachers and students who cannot return due to health concerns or in the case of an outbreak.

"We want the [online] experience to be a mirror to the in-person option as much as possible," said CRCSD's Executive Director of Teaching and Learning, John Rice, "We know there's going to be outbreaks and we know, people are going to have to go back and forth and so we want the virtual option that our teachers are teaching to mirror the in-person experience as much as possible so there is a seamless transition. So if there needs to be a switch, students are still on the same scope and sequence, the same learning progressions. 

The district also has outlined a preliminary plan in case a teacher or student were to test positive.

While each school level, elementary, middle, and high school, will vary the idea is the same, limiting exposure.

Bush said the district looked at a hybrid option to rotate students every other day for on-site learning but realized that would be difficult for families to manage.

For now, the plan for each school is to keep classes at a 20:1 student, teacher ratio. While some leaders recognized that could be a challenge, it will ultimately depend on how many students return to on-site instruction.

For grade levels such as middle school, the plan also includes having one homeroom teacher that would help facilitate online learning for their 'cohort' on other subjects, such as math or science.

"Each trimester a special teacher would rotate to the cohort for art, music, and PE as our initial plan. So those teachers would have more students but still a smaller cohort at a time," said CRCSD's Deputy Superintendent, Nicole Kooiker.

The District's Executive Director of Elementary Education, Eric Christenson said achieving the ratio does worry him with the normal class sizes in some schools.

"It's a math game to be honest with you and we're going to have to look at those numbers to decide what's best in terms of safety for kids and our staff. I'm really encouraged about the face masks and the face shields, particularly at Elementary because I think most of us know that our little ones, even pre-k through fifth grade, it's going to be difficult to keep masks on those children. So the face shields will help, but it is a math puzzle," said Christenson.

Linn County Public Health offered guidance on each model and strongly recommended students and teachers wear some type of personal protective equipment such as masks or shields as social distancing will likely be a challenge.

The district noted it will provide some type of PPE for all students and accommodate those with specialized needs. Hand sanitizer will also be provided in every classroom.

Providing PPE for students and staff will be an additional cost to the district. However, 75% of the expense can be covered by FEMA.

Leaders noted custodial challenges will likely be one of the greatest as the staff isn't as robust as it once was. Custodians will focus on high tough point areas.

Collecting teacher feedback is a critical component to finalizing the district's plan, Bush said that was being collected this week.

Board members also requested the district work to collect more family feedback through non-electronic means to be more inclusive.

Virtual town halls for additional family input will be held next week. There was also a discussion to collect family input from summer meal pick up sites.

The district hopes to have their plan finalized by August 1st to begin collecting information on parent preference for how their student will return to learn.

Click here to watch the full July 13th, 2020 board meeting.

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Ashley Neighbor

Reporter, Cedar Rapids

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