After close to an hour of discussion, the PCM School Board, at a special meeting Friday, decided to continue with face-to-face learning for the district. Citing COVID data on what is happening in the schools, the board moved to stay as-is and not move to a Hybrid Model while re-accessing up-to-date data at a weekly meeting going forward.
“As of today, the total number of staff and students who have recorded positive for COVID-19 in our schools right now is eight out of 1,233 students. That percentage is .65 percent,” superintendent Michelle Havenstrite said. “That is as of Nov. 13, it doesn’t include kids positive in August or September.”
On Monday, Jasper County’s positivity rate was 22 percent. Havenstrite said she tracks the numbers every day including any COVID-related absences at the school. Currently, one elementary school has close to 20 students out because they were in close contact with someone outside of school.
“Our district-wide COVID absentee rate today (Friday) is 5.5 percent, the benchmark that was issued earlier in the year is 20 percent. We’ve been around 5.6 percent district-wide COVID related,” Havenstrite said. “The struggle in a leadership position is to be responsive and use good data to make the best decision for our kids, our community and to not make decisions because our neighbors are doing it or because someone else is doing it.”
Current trends show the numbers are continuing to increase and are anticipated to do so into the future, especially with the upcoming holidays near. While the district has asked numerous times to mask up, wash hands and make decisions to help slow the spread, Havenstrite said it is a partnership with families and the community to keep the numbers down.
“Right now we have them from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. with masks, spread out the best we can, sanitized, clean,” Havenstrite said. “It is going to take a full commitment from our community, our parents and the school district working together fully implementing mitigation strategies inside school and outside school to reduce the spread of COVID.”
Havenstrite said in her opinion the Hybrid Model is not the best learning model for students. She is also not 100 percent convinced moving to a Hybrid Model will reduce the county positivity numbers.
“I believe a hybrid model will be very taxing to many families and we need to consider that,” Havenstrite said. “It is a really tough decision for board members and school leaders to balance risk and safety and meeting needs of families and students. We are here for students learning.”
There is also concerns that should the district move to the Hybrid Model, it may tax the already struggling healthcare system in the state. If students are home for part of the week, would parents have to be out of work, specifically in the healthcare field, to care for them, is one factor Havenstrite is looking at.
“In my office, I would lose clerical help and nursing help because they would have to be home with the kids,” board member Greg Ingle said.
Another concern is if the district continues to stay in face-to-face learning there is a chance should the numbers continue to rise the Iowa Department of Public Health can strongly recommend the district skip the Hybrid Model altogether and move straight to remote Distancing Learning.
“I don’t want to wait until the point the department of education or the county tells us we have to go fully remote. I would rather try a Hybrid first then to not do anything and get to that point,” board chair Steve Nearmyer said.
Should a Hybrid Model be approved, another element is setting parameters to bring students back. Several board members expressed concerns about being out of the buildings for an extended period of time should the district take the next step.
“My biggest thing I am worried about is if we go out, I think it is going to be tough to get back in. Setting those parameters, I think is going to be tough getting them back. That is one thing I am struggling with is how to get them back in,” board vice chair Mitchell Chipps said. “I know we could look at a three day average but we may plateau, we may be out there for a long time.”
The board decided to revisit the discussion at its regular meeting Monday and moving forward at a weekly meeting as long as the district remains in face-to-face learning.
“I am trying to make the best decision that I think is best for our students, the parents and the staff and it is a tough one,” Chipps said. “I have sat in a lot of disciplinary actions where it has been tough because you know the families but this one is by far the hardest decision since I’ve been sitting here.”
Contact Jamee A. Pierson at 641-792-3121 ext. 6534 or firstname.lastname@example.org