Eastern Iowa school superintendent answers questions, concerns before start of school year

Published: Aug. 21, 2021 at 10:54 AM CDT
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DUBUQUE, Iowa (KCRG) - As students get ready to go back to school, some parents say they are concerned as to what that will look like as positive COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Iowa.

”We had hopes, as I think the rest of the world had, to be at a different place at the start of the school year,” Stan Rheingans, the Dubuque Schools superintendent, said. “Feeling like a little déjà vu, like we have been here before.”

Rheingans recognized they are going into the school year with a lot of uncertainty for the district’s 10,000 students. He said, though, he wants parents to know they feel they are ready, keeping safety as the top focus.

KCRG-TV9 asked him some of your questions. The responses may vary from district to district.

Trisha Waterman: What are teachers doing to keep kids safe?

Rheingans said teachers in Dubuque have a list of things to look out for.

Rheingans: ”How do we find space? Are windows open? Are we keeping ventilation going? Are we using hand sanitizers when students leave and enter classrooms...?”

Paula Freeman: Will there be any contact tracing or any requirements for students who have immediate family members with COVID to stay home?

Rheingans: “We were relieved to find out that the county emergency management team, the county board of health, have hired a couple of folks to do contact tracing, so while we are in this elevated risk, they will be doing contact tracing, notifying us of positive cases in our building and then we’ll do the contact tracing within the building and notify parents of potential exposure to it. If we drop in levels of positive cases, then they may stop doing that, and then we will have to adjust how we can do it or if we can do it. Because we would really be reliant on families telling us that they have a positive versus hearing it through the county.”

Jennifer Davis: Will schools go virtual if some threshold of positive cases in the school is reached? If so, what is the threshold?

Rheingans: “We do not have the capacity to make the decision in the district to move to fully online unless it is weather-related. We would need permission from the state to do that.”

The Dubuque Community School District is providing a fully online learning option. Rheingans said parents have the option to switch their children from fully in-person to fully online if they want to. He said the district has around 170 students enrolled in fully online learning.

Mindy Walderbach: What are districts doing to get students caught back up academically from missing so much school and the decreased quality of education they received virtually?

Rheingans: “So, we have hired additional teachers to really work with students whose data says they have a hole or have missed some learning last year, and how do we work through that. It is also a lot of training with our teachers for what we call “differentiation,” so helping understand each individual student, where they are at, where those holes might be, and then how do we differentiate our instruction to make sure that over time we close those gaps.”

Jessica Roman: Please highlight what concerned parents can do locally and at the state level to support schools and teachers.

Rheingans: “Rule number one: if you do not feel well, do not come to school. If they are the symptoms of COVID, please get tested for COVID before you go to school because it is about keeping it contained. Secondly, have that family conversation, look at the guidelines that we’ve shared or are shared in our other multiple websites about things that they can do, masks and those sorts of things and make a conscious family decision about how to move forward.”

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