Iowa City Schools plan to move 100 percent off-site on for two weeks beginning Monday

Because of a high positivity rate for COVID-19 in Johnson County, Iowa City schools will move online for two weeks starting Nov. 16.


Jeff Sigmund

Iowa City Community School District sign. As seen on Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020.

Natalie Dunlap, News Reporter

When Iowa City students began spring break back in March, few of them expected to be out of their school’s building for the rest of the year. Nine months later, the Iowa City Community School District created infrastructure for online and hybrid learning. 

Now with a large amount of positive COVID-19 cases in Johnson County and across the state, the district has decided to move all classes off-site for two weeks, beginning Nov. 16. 

As previously reported by The Daily Iowan, the Iowa City Community School District petitioned the state for permission to move all classes off-site for two weeks on Nov. 7. 

On Nov. 10, the Iowa Department of Education granted the district permission. In a virtual board meeting that evening, the school board discussed the circumstances around this decision and what the next few weeks will look like. 

Interim Superintendent Matt Degner opened the conversation about the waiver by telling the board the positive and negative news. Degner said because of students and staff adhering to health and safety mitigation efforts, so far the percentage of positive students and staff have stayed fairly low. 

However, he said, the Johnson County positivity rates are concerning, as are some levels numbers at specific schools in the district. 

“We do have high numbers in some of our buildings, where we have over 10% of our students and staff out due to either confirmed cases or quarantine,” Degner said. “Contact tracing is becoming especially difficult for nurses…They’re just doing tremendous work for us and have really been working night and day.”

Because of these concerns, he recommended the district move online beginning Nov. 16. Finishing out the school week allows teachers more time to transition, parents more time to coordinate childcare, and ‘B’ group hybrid students a chance to attend school this week, he said.

School Board President Shawn Eyestone said some schools might move online sooner if the case numbers become concerning enough before the week is over. 

The two weeks online will take the district through Thanksgiving break. The board will reevaluate on Nov. 24 if they should continue online or move back into the hybrid format for standard enrollment students. 

“I know there’s gonna be people frustrated with this move again, and it’s not where people want to be. It’s not where we want to be,” Degner said. 

He recommended community members to review the Iowa Department of Education’s website, to see that the problem was state-wide. He also referenced the press conference held earlier on Tuesday, in which Gov. Kim Reynolds announced groups of more than 25 indoors and 100 outdoors would be banned unless everyone over the age of 2 was wearing masks. That did not include schools, she said. 

“When I talked to the bureau chief of the department today, she said she had 20 requests they’re working on from districts,” he said. “We know this is a serious situation, we know that there’s a part we play in that we don’t want to be online. We don’t want to be online for any longer than we have to, but we feel like it’s the appropriate move at this point.”

When all classes are online, the district will provide grab and go meals between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. on school days at seven locations. Before and After School Programs can make their own decisions about if they want to operate while classes are all virtual. 

The district will also be able to deliver onsite services to Individualized Education Program students during the two week period. 

The board also discussed ways the district could look out for hybrid students’ mental health as they transition to virtual learning and as the weather changes, which can lead to seasonal depression. 

School board member Janet Godwin said if parents wanted their students back in the classroom, they need to adhere to safety guidelines. 

“For us to have a chance to have our students get back to school after the Thanksgiving break, I’m just going to urge my community members to wear masks, be smart about gathering, and do what we need to do to prevent spread,” she said. “And I’ll look forward to the conversation on the 24th to see where we are in terms of positivity rates. I really would like to see our kids come back to school, after Thanksgiving break, but I’m not so sure that might be possible, unless we get the spread under control.”