Iowa City School District maps out vaccine rollout, braces for in-person instruction

To prepare for some students’ return to in-person instruction for the first time in nearly a year, teachers readied their rooms on Feb. 12 while the district plans to vaccinate another 1,600 employees.


Jake Maish

A sign for the Iowa City Community School District is seen outside the district’s administration building on Tuesday, April 28. (Jake Maish/The Daily Iowan)

Grace Hamilton, News Reporter

The Iowa City School District is entering its third week of vaccine distribution for employees, with hopes to accelerate vaccination rollout and ensure the safest possible mitigation strategies, as some students return to 100 percent on-site instruction.

As previously reported by The Daily Iowan, the second phase of COVID-19 vaccine distribution — known as Phase 1b — took off on Feb. 1, prioritizing educators among COVID-19 vaccination recipients.

During last week’s board meeting, Iowa City Community School District’s Chief Operating Officer Chace Rameyannounced that the district had facilitated 411 district employee vaccinations during its first week of vaccine rollout.

“One of the things we’ve been able to set up by our partnership with UIHC is that we do it all in one. That day each week is Friday,” Ramey said. “We know there might be some side effects to that second dose, so having our staff vaccinated on Fridays is good because it gives them a weekend to rest.”

Ramey added that district employees would receive emails recapping the previous week of vaccination rollout on Monday afternoons and provide a vaccine projection for the coming week.

Iowa City Community School District School Board President Shawn Eyestone said if the same number of doses administered the first week is distributed every week to follow, it should take eight to 10 weeks for every staff member that wants a vaccine to receive the required two doses.

“There were about 2,500 employees that were asked in a survey if they wanted to be vaccinated, and about 2,000 have voiced interest,” Eyestone said. “If more of them end up wanting the vaccine, we’re obviously not going to turn them down.

Superintendent of Iowa City schools Matt Degner said he hopes University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics will continue to administer another 400 doses to district staff in the upcoming weeks.

“We would like to see them continue to have an appropriate number of doses for our staff,” Degner said. “That’s not a Johnson County issue or a University of Iowa Hospitals’ issue. It’s about trying to get an appropriate number of doses from the state.”

While arranging employee vaccinations, the district is preparing to return to 100 percent in-person learning on Monday. On Feb. 2, the school board approved a no-school day for students on Feb. 12 so teachers could prepare for this transition.

During Tuesday’s school-board meeting, Assistant Superintendent of Iowa City schools Amy Kortemeyer said several classrooms would hold up to 25 students and that shrinking classroom sizes any further would create increased interruption for online students.

“It’s going to cause disruption, not only for the kids that are losing their teacher or being shifted to another teacher but also for the kids that are coming on-site,” Kortemeyer said.

Kortemeyer presented data on the number of students returning to on-site learning and online learning during the school board meeting on Tuesday.

By the beginning of the third trimester, 389 elementary students, 101 junior-high students, and 145 high-school students will return to on-site learning, according to the data.

Eyestone said many parents have sent him studies showing that kids can safely learn inside schools during the pandemic. Although Eyestone wants to see children learning on-site, he is concerned about the community spread’s influence on school infection rates.

“For a long time, our community spread was not under control,” Eyestone said. “Right now, we’re in a pretty decent spot. But at the same time that we’re sending the kids back to school, [the state] is lifting restrictions on mask mandates, bars, and restaurants, which is going to potentially make the community spread worse at the same time we are trying to open up schools.”