Most students in Council Bluffs Community School District switched to full-time attendance Monday after the school district gave them the option to do so.
Previously, students were alternating between in-person and virtual instruction in a hybrid mode, except about 15% who were attending virtually.
“We feel really pleased with the first day and the work our teachers have done to prepare for the return — and the building leaders,” Superintendent Vickie Murillo said Tuesday. “The staff has just done an exceptional job.”
Overall, 5,083 students, or 59% of the district’s 8,681 enrollees, chose to return to daily on-site learning, she said. A smaller share — 2,283 students, or 26% — remained in hybrid, and 1,315, or 15%, chose to continue virtual learning.
Officials said they estimated that 60% to 80% would switch.
The percentage of students returning to full time was highest on the elementary level, where 71.6% chose that option, Murillo said. At the middle school level, the share was 63%, and at the high school level, 50.1%.
“Of course, it looks different in each building, but that’s our average,” she said.
School officials expect students to learn more with on-site learning, Murillo said.
“We know face-to-face instruction is best, and there’s a lot of students that are excited to be back,” she said. “Being able to have something that feels a little more normal is great.”
At the same time, there have been some benefits to having fewer students in classes at a time, Murillo said.
“Teachers felt they were able to build relationships with students and felt like they had more time with them,” she said. “It gave us time to really teach those safety protocols,” such as social distancing in the halls and waiting outside the restroom for a turn –- something a teacher implemented.
“I think starting in a hybrid phase and slowly rolling this out was the best way to show parents we could do this safely,” she said.
The district announced on Sept. 28 that parents had the option of sending their children back to school full time starting Monday or keeping them in the hybrid mode or Virtual Academy. Parents were to fill out an enrollment form by Oct. 5 indicating what they had chosen, but school officials were still calling homes Friday to check on families that had not submitted a form. The decision to allow a return to full-time attendance was based partly on parents’ responses to a telephone survey conducted in late September.
With more students in the schools, social distancing might not always be possible, Murillo said. The school district’s mitigation efforts seem to be working, Murillo said.
“The very best thing I can say is we have not had COVID spread inside our schools,” she said. “We know that not every minute of the day can kids be 6 feet apart. That’s why masks are so critical.”
There have been cases where students were exposed to the novel coronavirus outside of school and had to quarantine for a time, Murillo said. She noted they can’t control exposures that happen outside the schools.
Murillo said she’s grateful for the communication and partnership the district has with Pottawattamie County Public Health.
“The health department has been a great resource,” she said. “They have responded to any questions and supported us with our tracing.”
“We’re trying to keep schools at the center of our work — and how to keep students safe, staff safe,” she continued. “We know together we can weather this and teach our students and not allow a learning loss. Our students are learning every day, whether it’s in class or virtually, and we want to keep that trend moving.”
This week, with more students on site, teachers have found ways to spread students out, Murillo said.
“They’re using outdoor spaces, they’re using larger indoor spaces and the principals are really being creative with their staff,” she said.
The district decided to make this Teacher Appreciation Week to thank teachers for doing all the extra work required to implement the hybrid mode, Murillo said. Signs were posted outside all of the school buildings.
“I felt like it was time to stop and thank them for really taking teaching to a new level,” she said.
Learning to teach to students in the classroom and those watching from home was not easy, Murillo said.
“That is a new skill that teachers had to learn, and that is not an easy skill,” she said.
Murillo said she hasn’t made any decisions about when she might ask the whole district to return to on-site learning. The county was at a 12.6% 14-day rolling average positivity rate on Tuesday. The state has set 15% as a threshold that will be among the factors considered in discussions of virtual-only instruction.
For now, Murillo likes letting parents choose.
“Right now, it’s a wait and see, but we definitely will be communicating and seeking input and feedback,” she said.
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