WATERLOO, Iowa (KWWL) – Waterloo Schools released a lengthy Return to Learn plan for the 2020-21 academic year in an effort to return to in-person classes in the safest way possible in the eyes of the district.
The 27-page plan outlines current thinking on how to best handle the virus. “It represents hundreds of hours of research, scenario modeling and input from Waterloo’s dedicated and talented staff and community stakeholders. It is still being revised as new information becomes available,” said a letter from Dr. Jane Lindaman, the district's superintendent.
The district adds that there may be a time that the situation must be very fluid between in-person and remote learning.
Social distancing and personal protective equipment are key highlights in the plan. Furniture will be arranged as to promote social distancing as much as possible. Playground equipment will be limited due to its shared nature. Waterloo Schools are providing at least two cloth face masks to each student. Plastic privacy shields will be installed on desks and tables where six-foot social distancing is not possible; in this case, students will be able to remove their face coverings.
Staff, students and visitors will be screened upon their entry to any district building. Staff are required to take a health screening survey and check their temperatures on a daily basis. Students, based on guidance from the Black Hawk County Health Department, will not be screened on a daily basis and will mostly rely on the observations of parents/guardians.
According to the district's Director of Elementary Education, Jennifer Hartman, the plan is flexible and not permanent by any means.
"We have told our staff members this is the plan we are working with on, almost, August 1st. Could it change August 20th? Yes,” she said.
A big concern for the district is what will happen when and if a student or staff member contract the virus. Hartman said they will work closely with the Black Hawk County Health Department on how to handle that.
Substitute teachers could be a challenge this year. Not just for Waterloo, but all districts. Some older substitutes might not want to take the risk and others might already be tied up by another district who has a teacher out for an extended period.
"We know we're going to have to rely on substitutes. We are concerned because it's just hard to find substitute teachers in the state of Iowa, around the country it's difficult, but we do have many people signed up for that, as many as possible,” Hartman said.
The district is using a staggered approach to bringing students back into their buildings. Kindergarten, first and sixth grades will return first due to the substantial adjustment at those grade levels. It will be followed by second, third and seventh grade. Fourth, fifth and eighth grade will return last. High school will start the same time as the first group, but be on an “AB” schedule.