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Local

NCSD continues to inform families

Virtual town hall meeting draws hundreds, allows subcommittees to update community

Administrators of the Newton Community School District wrap up the Thursday night virtual town hall meeting at the E.J.H. Beard Administration Center. More than 270 people joined in on the town hall meting, which was held via Zoom. Attendees were asked to submit questions about the school district's return to learn plan.
Administrators of the Newton Community School District wrap up the Thursday night virtual town hall meeting at the E.J.H. Beard Administration Center. More than 270 people joined in on the town hall meting, which was held via Zoom. Attendees were asked to submit questions about the school district's return to learn plan.

More than 270 people tuned in Thursday evening to Newton Community School District’s virtual town hall meeting broadcasted via Zoom.

The town hall allowed administrators of the school district to further update the public about their return-to-learn plan, which is up for approval at the Monday, July 27, school board meeting. By Tuesday, the district will launch a webpage with easy-to-access details about its plan and how families can prepare this year.

In a sense, this meeting was a continuation of the July 13 school board meeting, which unveiled Newton’s proposed hybrid model plan allowing four days of on-site classes and one day for remote learning. At that meeting, the newly hired superintendent Tom Messinger allotted time to answer questions.

Newton’s continued transparency to families and the community was showcased once more at the town hall. Again, Messinger allowed for an elongated question-and-answer period. Either himself or his return-to-learn plan subcommittee heads answered the numerous questions submitted through Zoom chat.

“The questions asked tonight help us make sure that we have all the details carefully thought out about our plan,” Messinger said. “We realize this is going to seem like a very large amount of information this evening. You’re going to learn a lot here tonight and we realize you may still have questions.”

Based on their phrasing and language, some people seemed skeptical of the plan and its finer details. However, the district staff participating — Jessica Ferguson, Trisca Mick, Bret Miller and Tara Zehr — had no problems answering these difficult questions, which Messinger said will be shared online soon.

Miller, the director of teaching at learning, said the 2020-21 school year will be different from what educators and the community have ever experienced. Since schools closed early in March, Miller said the district will align the missed instruction to the learning that will happen in the upcoming school year.

“We’re going to do what we call ‘scaffolding,’ which is providing that additional support and differentiation to students so that they can be successful at the grade level standards,” Miller said. “We don’t feel it’s appropriate to just pick up where we left off because that would leave us behind for many years.”

Faculty’s goal is to get students caught up as quick as possible. To do this, teachers will work collaboratively to make sure kids are caught up where they need to be. Over the summer, the state asked schools to develop three different learning models: traditional on-site, hybrid and fully remote.

Following Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds’ proclamation two weeks ago, schools are required to provide mostly in-person learning this fall. With Newton’s four-days-in, one-day-out plan, the district and its seven campuses meet the governor’s requirements. Furthermore, its proposed plan is not invalidated.

Students will have access to a learning management system, Miller said. Having Mondays for designated remote learning days allows students to practice what it is like interacting with teachers and peers through this particular system. Miler said students will also be taught the system during on-site learning days.

Newton also has a fully remote option for families who do not want to participate in the hybrid model. This option is also supported by the governor, who wants to give the choice to families. Miller said the district feels it is important for families to choose the best learning model to meet their kids’ needs.

How schools will maintain health and safety

Zehr, principal of WEST Academy and head of the social emotional subcommittee, said the past several months of this pandemic have been difficult for families and students. Going into the next school year, Zehr said there will be an increased awareness for students’ social emotional needs.

Several questions were directed toward the district’s health and safety subcommittee, represented by Thomas Jefferson Elementary School Principal Trisca Mick. At the town hall, Mick covered six key areas: masks, self-screening, classrooms, cleaning, transportation and food service.

Face coverings will be required by all who enter the campuses, including students. Face masks or face shields must be well-fitted and cover both the mouth and the nose. Reusable face coverings should be cleaned and washed daily by families, Mick said. Masks will be available to students upon request.

Staff will be provided masks and face shields, too. Mick said there will be designated times where students and faculty can remove their masks, particularly during lunch, outside at recess or during band practices. “Mask breaks” can be provided throughout the day.

The health and safety subcommittee is also asking parents conducting daily screenings — such as temperature checks — at home with their kids before coming to school. If a student has temperature above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, the school’s policy is the child stays home.

Parents would then have to ask themselves if they or their child were exposed to someone with suspected COVID-19 or have any symptoms to the novel coronavirus, like a fever of 100.3 or higher, body aches, chills, shortness of breath, cough, headache and a sudden loss of taste and/or smell.

They would also ask themselves if they had a positive COVID-19 test. If a child or staff member answers “yes” to any of these self-screened questions, then they should stay home, Mick said. The school district said anyone feeling sick should stay home.

Mick said classroom seating charts should be created, documented and adhered to at all times. Social distancing guidelines should be followed at all times. Seating options should be separated as close to six feet apart as possible. When possible, all students should face the same direction.

Classroom items made with cloth or other hard-to-disinfect items like pillows and beanbags should not be used at all or used very sparingly. Staff will reduce shared use of classroom materials like snack buckets, show-and-tell bags, sensory tables, planners and books. P.E. will also be structured differently.

“Physical education classes should consider alternative activities that promote physical distancing greater than six feet when possible,” Mick said, also noting cleanliness procedures will be taught. “Hand washing and use of hand sanitizer should be explicitly taught and built into the daily schedule multiple times.”

Hand sanitizer will be made available to students and staff throughout the day. The health and safety subcommittee also recommends students should remain in the same room with the same group of peers as much as possible throughout the day to reduce the need for transitions.

Drinking fountains will not be used. No-touch water bottle filling stations can be used. Students are encouraged to bring their own water bottles for daily use. Sometimes desks or eating areas outside of the cafeteria will need to be used. When this is the case, these areas will be disinfected prior to eating.

Locker usage should be minimal or discouraged in Newton schools, Mick said. Plexiglass barriers will be placed in high traffic or high-risk areas in buildings. Band and choir classes will follow the Iowa High School Music Association guidelines, which will be provided to parents on the new webpage.

Extra cleaning processes will be put in place throughout the day to ensure the health and safety of all. Custodians will develop building cleaning schedules. All staff will be trained through online modules and training development on proper usage of cleaning materials and technical.

Electrostatic spraying machines will be used in all classrooms, offices and training areas at least twice per week. Teachers will be required to disinfect all chairs, desks and tables in their classrooms once a day before leaving in the afternoon. This will exclude days where rooms are “misted.”

In order to reduce exposure to COVID-19, the healthy and safety subcommittee is encouraging all families to consider alternate transportation other than school buses if possible. However, if kids are riding the bus, there will be many procedures in place to help keep them safe. Masks, for instance, will be required.

Buses will be filled to half capacity or less. Hand sanitizer will be available for students as they board the bus from back to front. No one will be allowed to sit directly behind the driver. Children will sit in assigned seats every time they ride. There will be one child per seat; kids from same households can share seats.

No food or drink will be permitted on the bus. When students arrive to school or at their drop-off point, they will exit the bus from the front to the back. Once students get to campus, each building will “designate ways to socially distance” as students enter the building.

Staff will continue to serve students lunch and breakfast, Mick said. Everyone must wash their hands before and after they eat their meals. Social distancing guidelines should be followed as much as possible. No salad bars will be available. All food items of the day will be served.

“The cafeteria should be used at limited capacity at both breakfast and lunch, no more than 50 percent per capacity,” Mick said. “We would like kids to stay in light groupings or cohorts as much as possible. And we would like to utilize alternative school settings such as classrooms to spread out seating.”

This would be utilized when the cafeteria has reached 50 percent capacity. When possible and when weather allows, the health and safety subcommittee encourages students should eat outdoors.

More information will be provided to parents once the new return to learn webpage is launched.

Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext. 6560 or cbraunschweig@newtondailynews.com

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