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Jasper County Tribune

Planning for back to school

Baxter’s school board hears Return to Learn plan for upcoming year

Going into the next school year, administration, staff, students and parents are preparing for a term unlike any other. The Baxter School Board heard from superintendent Mickolyn Clapper during the recent meeting on the district’s Return to Learn plan and how, for now, they hope to run the school for 2020-2021.

Summarized, Baxter plans to return to school with modifications to keep students in similar groups, take several breaks for cleaning and disinfecting, encourage frequent hand washing and have students and staff wear masks or face shields in any situation where they can’t maintain social distancing, defined as closer than six feet for more than 15 minutes.

“All Iowa schools were required to submit a ‘Return to Learn’ plan on July 1 to the Iowa Department of Education,” Clapper said. “The schools also have to develop a ‘Reopening Schools’ plan. The plans cover three major categories: onsite learning, online (continuous) learning and hybrid of both learning models.”

The Reopening Schools plan are currently in draft form because the situation is constantly changing, Clapper said. It is subject to change at any time due to the governor’s proclamations, Iowa Department of Education guidance, Iowa Department of Public Health guidance, Jasper County Public Health guidance and local decision.

The plan Baxter will use was development by a team of staff members including teachers administrators, parents, nurses, nutrition staff, custodian staff and Jasper County Public Health officials. It has two learning options: have students learning onsite or learning online from home for the entire first semester.

“The most important thing we can do to help keep our students and staff safe and our school open is to wash or disinfect hands,” Clapper said.

Every person who enters the building will be required to use hand sanitizer or soap and water to clean their hands. Visitors will be limited during the first semester.

“Each building principal and building leadership team will work together plan for lunchroom, recess, passing times and the details of those plans will be available in the next few weeks,” Clapper said.

If there is a “presumed positive,” a person who lives with a student or staff member that has tested positive but the student or staff member is not showing any symptoms or has not been tested, that person must stay home for 14 days. If there is an “actual positive”, a student or staff member in the class, the entire class will be out for two weeks and must quarantine.

“We will limit cohort mixing to limit the exposure to each student and staff member,” Clapper said, “We know this will be harder at the middle and high school levels.”

If someone has tested positive for COVID-19, they must be seven days without symptoms and three days fever free with no medication to return to school. Any student who has a fever, regardless of if it is COVID related or not, must remain home and will not be allowed back until they are fever free for 72 hours without medication.

“This is critical for this year. Please do not give your child Tylenol and send them to school,” Clapper said. “Our goal is to limit the spread of COVID in order to keep our school open, but it will take everyone following these safety rules to keep our doors open as long as possible.”

For those who will not be returning to school, an Online Learning Plan is available. Working with the Iowa Department of Education and Heartland AEA to finalize what the curriculum will be with it most likely being a self paced course of study based on the Iowa Core Standards.

Unlike the Distance Learning Plan, which has Baxter faculty leading the students, the Online Learning Plan will be facilitated through an outside agency and will likely not follow the specific lessons taught at the school.

“Mr. Aker and Mr. Luther are also meeting with their staff to discuss how best to provide support to those students and families not only academically but social-emotional support, as well,” Clapper said.

Those who choose the Online Learning Plan will be on it for the entire first semester and will be unable to go back-and-forth between in-school and online learning.

Finally, the Distance Learning Plan will look very similar to the work completed in the spring, except it will required, not voluntary.

“In this model, students and staff will pick up where they left off when they school was closed,” Clapper said.

Also discussed were employee leave of absence policies with the board approving staff two weeks of leave at full pay for anyone who is quarantined due to COVID. It also allows for two weeks of pay at two-thirds pay for an employee who needs to be home to care for a family member with COVID. Staff can also supplement pay by using sick days or personal days to make up the one-third pay if they have it available.

In an expansion of the Family and Medical Leave Act, the board approved a policy allowing staff to take up to 12 weeks of leave to care for a child under the age of 18 if that child’s school or daycare center has been closed due to COVID. The first two weeks are unpaid and the last 10 weeks are at two-thirds rate. Once again, staff can use sick or personal days to cover the different.

Board policies on school days and allowing the superintendent to authorize closing the school due to a COVID outbreak and transition to remote learning, appropriate use of online learning platform behaviors were also approved and student absences excused with online learning were also approved by the board.

“These policies we are adopting are just emergency policies and they will expire, so if we have to re-evaluate them and reimplement them for the second semester we will do that,” Clapper said.

“Our main goal is just to keep our building open and the best way to do it is what public health told us. None of us want to shut the building, we all want to keep school open as much as possible.”

Contact Jamee A. Pierson at 641-792-3121 ext. 6534 or jpierson@newtondailynews.com

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