Cedar Rapids Schools release family survey results, will require facial coverings in buildings

Published: Jul. 13, 2020 at 6:32 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Officials for the Cedar Rapids Community School District released some of the results of a survey of district families on Monday, as well as a few more guidelines that the district will follow when classes resume in the fall.

The district provided an update to its Return to Learn plan based on results from a survey that included 5,717 families. The survey showed that 54% of those who responded are comfortable sending their students back to school this fall during the ongoing pandemic, while 11% said they are not comfortable with that idea. 36% said they were unsure if they were comfortable or uncomfortable.

District 4 Director Dexter Merschbrock said the board of education and district need to keep in mind that families’ feelings could change about returning to the classroom before the start of the school year.

“I think two weeks ago, people would’ve been less reluctant, and now people are more reluctant, and I think that’s understandable,” Merschbrock said.

The plan said all staff and students in school buildings and on buses will be required to wear facial coverings, like masks or shields. Students would be given age-appropriate breaks from the masks and special accommodations if needed, according to the plan. Superintendent Noreen Bush said during a virtual presentation on Monday that a mask or shield will be provided to all students by the district, depending on age and need. Staff members will also be issued a mask and shield.

Student-to-teacher ratios would be decreased as much as possible, along with enhanced social distancing, in order to try to limit the spread of COVID-19. The district said it’s too early to know what the ratio will be.

“We don’t know yet how many kids are going to opt for that virtual option, let alone do we know right now how many teachers are going to be coming on site. And so that data right there, those two pieces, will allow us then to start doing — it’s a math game, to be honest with you,” Executive Director Eric Christenson said.

Other safety measures could be implemented, like having children eat lunches in classrooms rather than large lunchroom settings, required hand washing, and special arrival and dismissal procedures to reduce crowding. Schools would also be subject to additional cleaning procedures.

The choice of whether to return to school for in-person learning or to learn virtually this fall will be left up to students and their families, the district said Monday.

“We do want to give those options to families and say, ‘We know that there’s a lot of things going on in your lives. Here’s two options that are meeting those very different needs and very different situations you’re in,‘” Executive Director John Rice said.

While the district said it will be flexible to changes in how students learn, it is asking families to stick with one plan for an entire semester.

District leaders are still finalizing what those plans will look like, saying the ones for high schools are the most complicated, in large part because of the numbers of students and courses offered, and still need the most figuring out.

“What we’re considering the most is a hybrid option which brings students into the building probably twice a week, with online learning three days a week,” Executive Director Cynthia Phillips said.

After those plans are finalized and released to the public, the district said families and staff should decide what they’ll do this semester by early August and inform district staff.

Some of the top concerns that respondents expressed to the district in the survey, which was sent in June, were their students contracting and spreading the virus, the difficulty of social distancing in the building, the cleaning procedures at the buildings, whether schools could shut down again, and the educational readiness of students to proceed to the next grade.

Of the options for in-person learning, online-only learning, or a hybrid approach, in-person learning received the highest rate of responses that said it would work for families at 65%. 38% said a hybrid approach could work, and 32% said online-only could work. The at-home approach received the highest number of families who said that could not work for them at 28%.

District officials said that less than one-third of families responded to the survey. They are seeking ways to get more responses from those who were not represented in those results.

The district will next hold virtual town halls to discuss the plans in late July. Families can sign up to participate on the district’s website. A final decision on which method of learning will be chosen for fall will be made during the week of July 27.

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