H-D, CAL boards opt for hybrid model of education as school year approaches

Greg Forbes

The picture for how Hampton-Dumont and CAL schools will operate to start the year became clearer Monday night.

In a joint meeting between the districts, both the Hampton-Dumont and CAL Boards of Education approved several motions regarding the return to learn plan, including a mask mandate, which phase outlined in the plan will be conducted and how the districts can move in and out of phases.

Both boards first approved a motion to mandate face coverings for students and staff on school property and at school events. This also would apply for students and staff who ride school transportation. Mask use would also be enforced spectators at all sporting events, indoor and outdoor.

The second motion, approved individually by both boards, would see all schools within the districts operate in the Stage 4 model, which has limited capacity in the buildings and an alternate schedule.

The third and final motion was to allow Superintendent Todd Lettow to make a decision based on the COVID-19 outlook in the county to move to a different phase. The boards mandated that a decision be considered in two-week blocks depending on the case numbers. For example, the county currently sits at 15 to 16 percent positive testing rate. The State of Iowa suggests that counties lower than 15 percent should be encouraged to conduct a fully onsite learning model but those districts in counties above 20 percent positivity rate can petition to move to fully online learning. Should the numbers fall or rise to either category, the decision can be made to move to a stage of learning that satisfies the recommendations based on case rate. The boards ask that Lettow make those observances on either Tuesday evenings or Wednesday mornings in order to give staff and parents time to develop plans based on the requirements of the stage. Lettow said that the model allows the district to react quickly and to move into a safer stage if numbers spike drastically.

Under Stage Four, students would be divided into two groups, likely based on alphabetical order. One group would theoretically attend school in person Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and the second would attend Thursday and Friday. The next week, the first group would attend school Monday and Tuesday and the second would attend Wednesday through Friday.

Jen Koenen, Curriculum Director for both districts, said details still need to be finalized on how groups will be divided and when they will attend school, but the goal is to have students learn new lessons while in the building, then work on retaining and refining lessons while at home.

“We do beg your patience because we are still working on that,” she said. “It won’t be businesses as usual but it will be as safe as it is possible.”

Lettow said that the recommendation of the hybrid model stemmed from conversations had with local and county officials, recommendations from the State of Iowa, community and staff surveys and ongoing correspondence with department directors and administration within the school. He added that the recommendation was strongly influenced by the case numbers of COVID-19 within Franklin County, which currently ranks in the top 10 in the state in positive testing rate.

“A week ago, I would say that my plan was definitely ‘Let’s go back to school’ because we want to see the kids back and I definitely feel that’s the best way we as teachers can educate the kids, is on site,” he said. “But Franklin County is one of the highest seven counties in the state and that’s a real concern. It’s a balance between the quality of education…and the safety of the students.”

Lettow further stated that the districts are also allowing students who are not comfortable returning to school to receive online learning. Lessons and school work are to be identical to what is done in the physical classroom.

He said this will also allow parents to move children back in the classroom or out as they see fit.

“This allows people to say ‘For us right now as a family we’re going to choose to be home’ and that’s what I want parents to realize is they can move back and forth between models,” he said. We realize this is a lot of work for parents and we will help as best we can in assisting them.”

The boards both voted unanimously to approve the Stage 4 hybrid method of learning. Along with the plan comes protocols devised by the principals at each building. The principals detailed practices that will be in place at their respective schools, including how lunch will be operated, traffic flow, paths on the floors, class size, wellness checks, entry points and sanitization.

The full Return to Learn plan can be found at www.hdscd.org or cal.k12.ia.us. The first day of classes is Tuesday, Aug. 25. See next week’s issue of the Hampton Chronicle for a further look at safety measures and precautions in place at district schools.


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