School board continues coronavirus discussion

Wednesday, March 25, 2020
The Spencer School Board met Tuesday night, albeit farther apart than usual as the board practiced social distancing inside the district meeting room, and also through teleconference.
Photo by Joseph Hopper

The Spencer School Board met Tuesday night, albeit farther apart than usual as the board practiced social distancing inside the district meeting room, and also through teleconference. Six days after schools across the state — including those in Spencer — closed their doors, the board continued to take stock in district activity and the ever-changing pandemic situation.

“We’ve been serving meals breakfast and lunch at four sites throughout the district since Thursday, our numbers have been growing,” Spencer Superintendent Terry Hemann said. “Today I think it was approximately 340.”

“I know that’s available to anybody, funding wise is that a grant program?” board member Brea Schmidt said. “It’s not costing the school money per se, correct?”

“It’s just like the summer food service program,” Hemann added. “We will get reimbursement for those meals, and nobody should feel guilty about coming if people need meals.”

Hemann shared his experiences working as one of the 15 volunteers who prepare the daily meals, which includes proper hand-washing, distancing and the use of rubber gloves, describing the current system as an assembly line. He also pointed out efforts at the Spencer Middle School.

“Adam Gress and Tammy Delaney are manning the food bank at the middle school, they’re open Thursday nights,” Hemann said. “The food bank is available for people as well, we’ve been contacted by some private producers and there’s been donations that have been happening there.”

Hemann praised efforts of district staff, mentioning educators reaching out to their students through a variety of platforms, giving an example of an individual reading to their students, as well as the maintenance staff who continue as normal in ensuring buildings and grounds are in proper order. The superintendent said the school district has also had the opportunity to help provide needed supplies to medical personnel.

“I was contacted by emergency management today to ask if we had any N95 masks and I didn’t really know that we did,” Hemann said. “But in our high school shop department we had 125, so we’ll be donating those to the hospital.”

The board also discussed the topic of educating online, which Hemann said has become “an opportunity” which is receiving focus and discussion.

“There’s the online education question that’s out there, it’s like ‘why aren’t schools doing all online?’” Hemann said. “Well first of all none of us are set up to do that right now and to do it well. The other piece is it’s an equity issue. This is kind of our saying in the superintendent world this week: if we can’t serve everybody we shouldn’t serve anybody. ... If we’re offering online work, none of it can be mandatory. We can put a lot of things out there for kids and recommend it, but we can’t make anything mandatory. If we do, we have to be finding a way to serve all of our kids and most of us in the state are not at the capacity to do that.”

“If they don’t have access they’d go to the library or one of our facilities and they can’t do that,” board member Dean Mechler said.

The school superintendent said during an uncertain time, the current plan is to wait-and-see.

“The four weeks could change and I know people are aware of that,” Hemann said.

The board also took COVID-19 related action by passing a resolution of “Pandemic Response and Emergency Suspension of Policy” recommended by the Iowa Association of School Boards. According to the IASB the resolution provides the ability to suspend policies potentially in conflict with guidance issued by state or federal agencies in response to the pandemic and to give the superintendent the authority to “act to comply with public health directives.”

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