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CB School Board members get first look at possible Return to Learn plans
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CB School Board members get first look at possible Return to Learn plans

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Remote instruction, on-site instruction and alternating between the two might all be part of the 2020-21 school year.

Members of the Council Bluffs Community School District Board of Education got their first glimpse of that during their meeting Tuesday.

Administrators see three possible phases: remote learning via online instruction, on-site classes with added safety precautions or a hybrid model with a combination of online and on-site instruction, according to Corey Vorthmann, chief academic officer for the school district.

“All of these plans … are still a work in progress,” he said at the outset of the overview he presented during the meeting. “All three of these plans may be used flexibly. We may be moving in and out of all three plans as we move through the school year.”

Unlike last year, virtual classes would not be voluntary, Vorthmann said.

“All student work would be required, and all student work would be graded,” he said.

School officials do not want students to get any further behind than they already are from last spring’s unplanned closure, Vorthmann said. Teachers will need training to put credit classes into a virtual format. This will probably be done during their Summer Academy, with fine tuning during the school year.

“It’s something that will be new to all the teachers,” he said.

With the hybrid plan, all students would receive virtual instruction on Mondays, which are shortened so teachers can attend professional development sessions in the afternoon, Vorthmann said. Then, half of the students would attend classes at school buildings on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and the other half would go to school on Wednesdays and Fridays. On the days students are not physically at school, they would participate in classes through a link with the class section held on those days. Teachers would be at school every day teaching one group of students in person and the other group virtually.

The hybrid model would allow schools to keep class sizes smaller and spread students out. It would also be easier for students to practice social distancing.

If students did attend classes at school buildings, whether on alternate days as part of a hybrid model or for daily on-site instruction, they would have their temperatures checked each time, they would need to practice social distancing and buildings would receive enhanced cleaning and sanitizing, according to a chart Vorthmann presented at the meeting.

At this point, the district plans to encourage but not require the use of masks, Superintendent Vickie Murillo said.

Board member Jill Shudak asked if a student’s temperature would be checked if they rode the bus.

“The bus company is not comfortable with bus drivers taking temperatures,” Murillo said.

“The bus drivers are going to be required to wear a mask,” she said. “The monitors are going to be required to wear a mask.”

Board member Troy Arthur was concerned about the coronavirus possibly being spread by students on buses.

“If they’re on a bus and they’re sick, that’s awful,” he said.

School districts will not know what restrictions the state will require at the time school starts until late this summer — maybe by the end of July, Vorthmann said.

“We would have to abide by any emergency declaration the governor put out,” he said. “If there’s not an active emergency declaration, local control would prevail.”

“During closure, Nutrition Services were able to provide countless meals to our students,” board President David Coziahr said. “If we are in a return plan, as with a hybrid, have we learned enough from our closure time to be able to (provide meals)?”

Murillo said the district was considering whether to send several days’ worth of meals home with students, if the district implements a hybrid plan where students attend on alternate days. It’s hard for some parents to pick up meals at lunchtime, she said.

Arthur asked whether any of the staff members were in a high-risk group for COVID-19.

Garry Milbourn, chief human resources officer, said there were.

“There are multiple people that have reached out, and I assume there will be more who will reach out when they get a little more information,” he said.

The school district is working with Kids & Company to figure out how childcare could safely be provided and how the program could accept additional children if the schools are in virtual or hybrid mode, Murillo said.

“At Kids & Company, we’re building plans that would work if any of these plans would have to happen,” said board Vice President Chris LaFerla, who is also the executive director of the Council Bluffs Schools Foundation, which operates the Kids & Company program.

School districts must submit a plan for remote learning to the Iowa Department of Education by July 1, Vorthmann said.

In order to provide for-credit remote instruction, all students will need to have access to class material. The district knows from last spring’s experience that not all students have access to the internet, Vorthmann said.

On Tuesday, the board approved an agreement with the City of Council Bluffs and the City of Carter Lake to form a group to provide free wireless internet service to Carter Lake residents, “to the extent technically possible and financially feasible.”

The agreement includes forming a Council Bluffs Area Wi-Fi Consortium, which would be governed by a council with seven members: the chief technology officer from the school district or his/her designee, an appointee of the superintendent, the chief information officer of the City of Council Bluffs or his/her designee, the mayor’s chief of staff or appointee, the mayor of Carter Lake or his/her designee, a member appointed by the Iowa West Foundation Board and a representative appointed by Google, who will be a consortium partner.

The agreement would last for five years, with the possibility of being renewed one year at a time.

The governance council will, in turn, appoint representatives of each of the parties to a technology committee to make recommendations at the direction and request of the governance council.

Carter Lake Mayor Ron Cumberledge has signed the agreement on behalf of the City of Carter Lake.

The Council Bluffs City Council is expected to take up the matter during its next meeting.

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