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Schools continue work on return to learn planning

Local school districts have yet to make a final decision on the return to learn plan that will outline how school will look for students in the fall.

Both the Washington and Mt. Pleasant Community School Districts sent letters to parents on Thursday, June 25. Washington Superintendent Willie Stone said in the letter it is essential for parents to understand the only thing due on July 1 is assurances that are required to be in the plan.

According to the Iowa Department of Education, the plan is due by July 1 and is designed to help districts meet the following challenges:

• Ensuring that remote learning options are available for all students.

• Planning to help students catch-up for the learning they may have missed during school closures.

• Integrating public health strategies into Iowa’s schools.

• Enabling schools to move between on-site and remote learning as needed.

• Helping the department and Iowa’s area education agencies (AEAs) understand how best to support schools.

The department has recommended districts not require students to wear masks. Local school districts can opt to require more than what the state guidance outlined, but “should only do so in consultation with public health and legal counsel,” according to the department.

Iowa’s guidance, while acknowledging schools “may not be able to guarantee that physical distancing can be met in all school settings throughout the entire school day,” does not recommend districts require the face coverings.

In Washington, the exact plan is not completed at this time.

“We have all of the fundamental questions answered at this point, but we are waiting until a little closer to the school year to really get deep in the weeds on specifics,” Stone said. “We are waiting because the information and expectations change so quickly.”

The superintendent added that it makes sense to have general plans of what is expected; it doesn’t make sense to have a detailed plan for the current situation because district administrators have seen how much things have changed over the last three months.

In Mt. Pleasant, Superintendent John Henriksen stated in the parent letter the district does not have a completed plan either and is looking into three possible options moving forward. The district has released a survey to collect community comments.

The first option for the fall would be face-to-face learning for all students. It would work like “regular school” with additional practices in place for health and hygiene.

The second option is hybrid learning which would include some face-to-face learning and some remote learning.

“In this model, increased social distancing can be realized by bringing some students on-site and using remote learning with others. This will decrease the number of students on buses and in each classroom,” Henriksen said.

The third option for learning is remote learning which would entail off-site learning and require students to access instruction through the use of technology.

In Washington, Stone said in his letter he believes the district will be going back to the physical school building in the fall with health and safety precautions in place, but the district is “prepared to be virtual if needed.”

Three surveys will be sent over the coming weeks to help the district gather information and plan for the upcoming year, he said.

Molly Duffy of The Gazette contributed to this article.