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RETURN TO LEARN: Dubuque set to start the school year using a hybrid model

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DUBUQUE, Iowa (KWWL) - Dubuque Community School District officials will welcome students back to the classroom on August 24.

In July, the district let families chose whether to be fully online or use a hybrid model. 78% of families chose the in-person option, while 22% wanted to be online.

Because Dubuque is using a hybrid model, less than 40% will be in a classroom each day.

"Students are either assigned an A day or a B-day," Superintendent Stan Rheingans said. "We'll have half of those students every day."

Students on the A day will attend in-person classes on Mondays and Wednesdays, while those on the B schedule will come on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Each group will alternate Fridays.

"The reason we chose the A-B, every other day scenario, so there is that constant contact," Rheingans said. "In school one day, not in school the next day."

All students will still attend school five days a week. Students will spend their 'days off' learning remotely.

"On a hybrid day, they will have a variety of online assignments or homework that was given the day before," Rheingans said.

School officials say they expect students to have between 30 and 40 minutes of work per subject on the hybrid days.

By using the hybrid, alternating days model, the district has enough space for social distancing in every classroom.

To maintain the six-foot distance hallways will be one way, and students will have assigned seats in classrooms and on school busses.

Rheingans said the hybrid model would allow for smaller class sizes, something he said teachers are excited about.

"Some of our class sizes, especially in elementary schools, are small so teachers can give individualized attention to students on the days they are there," he said.

All students and teachers will be required to wear a mask when at school.

"The masks and the social distancing protect the teachers as much as the students," Rheingans said. "If a student or family refuses to wear a mask, we will ask them to switch to our online school."

The most common question the district has gotten from parents has been about the district's plan if a student, teacher, or staff member tests positive for the coronavirus.

On Monday night, the school board voted to push back the first day of school ten days. Rheingans said the district is using the extra days to fine-tune the procedure for notifying families.

The district is planning to have a dashboard where families can see the number of positive cases in each school.

"Parents want to make good decisions for their kids, and they can't do that without information," Rheingans said. "We are going to share that data. We are also going to be reacting to the data as a district."

If the situation calls for it, school officials are confident they can handle a switch the fully online model.

In the spring, the district spent a million dollars on new technology so they could be sure remote learning would work for all families.

"Kids will have laptops," Rheingans said. "Families who do not have internet access can check out hotspots."

The district purchased individual laptops for elementary school students. Students in middle and high school already had individual laptops.

Rheingans said the biggest challenge for school leaders would be getting students used to the new normal.

"If we can work with kids about how to wear a mask, why to wear a mask, what social distancing looks like," he said. "If we can retrain habits in the first few days, we won't have to spend a lot of time policing that afterward."

Things will be different when students return to the classroom, but Rheingans said it is all about keeping everyone safe.

"The masks, the social distancing all of that is designed not just for keeping kids safe today, but lowering the numbers so we can get to full attendance," he said. "I believe starting in a hybrid is what allows us to get to full attendance and maintain full attendance in as short as possible a time."

The first day of school for the Dubuque Community School District is August 24.

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Daniel Perreault

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