Spencer School Board approves reopening recommendation

Tuesday, July 28, 2020
The sun sets behind Spencer High School Tuesday evening following the nights' school board meeting.
Photo by Joseph Hopper

Spencer Schools are set to reopen for classes on Aug. 24. The Spencer School Board voted Tuesday evening to approve a return to learn recommendation presented by Spencer Superintendent Terry Hemann, which also accommodates Gov. Kim Reynolds’ recent proclamation which provided additional requirements for school reopening plans.

“Spencer Community Schools have gathered input from students, parents, and staff,” Hemann said. “We have studied the recommendations of the CDC and the American Association of Pediatrics. We have listened and heard how other schools in Iowa and other states are planning to safely bring students and staff back to school. We have also struggled to move forward with our planning and preparation with little guidance from the state and federal departments of education. Recently, Governor Reynolds issued a proclamation that took the full-online option as a choice for school districts off the table. The proclamation stated that schools must provide face-to-face learning for at least 50% of a child’s instruction. However, students and families may be provided the choice to select online learning.

He added, “We could not make the following recommendations without the local input from students, parents, and staff. We also have relied heavily on our local public health officials for insight and guidance. Thank you all for your input and support. We understand that any decision that is made regarding the return to school will not meet the wants and expectations of some. This is a very difficult issue that as leaders, we must make a decision and move forward. But, we are at the point that a decision needs to be made.”

Under the plan, which may be subject to changes in the future, schools will open for full attendance at all school sites on Aug. 24 with attendance and participation required for all students of compulsory age. Masks, face shields, or face covering will be required for students who physically attend school and Spencer school staff when interacting with students or when they are not able to social distance.

“Students who have a diagnosed and medically supported health condition and or family who do not feel safe physically attending school will have the option to attend Spencer schools and receive remote instruction from Spencer School staff,” Hemann said. “Students and their families who choose to attend remotely, they will be graded, their attendance will be required. … A student beginning their year in the remote online format they must remain in that option until at least if they're in high school the first quarter or if they’re in elementary schools or the middle school the first trimester. … A student may change from physically attending school to the remote format at anytime. Families will be sent a survey that will allow them to select the remote, online option. Teaching staff will be assigned to teach and facilitate learning for students and families who select the remote online option. When possible, teachers with documented health conditions will be assigned to teach and facilitate remote online learning.”

The superintendent said busing will be available for all students who absolutely need it – both out of town and in-town – however families are encouraged to use other transportation if and when possible. Masks will be required on buses. Additionally, school schedules will be formatted to limit transitions that occur in a school day and student groupings will be limited to reduce exposure. At all schools, additional cleaning and disinfecting will occur as part of the plan, with classroom surfaces cleaned between class periods, restrooms, playgrounds and common areas receiving additional attention and high traffic areas being disinfected each day with hydro-electric sprayers. No student school trips or field trips will be conducted until the end of the first semester of the year.

The plan’s protocols for dealing with “COVID related illnesses” have been developed by district nursing staff and health officials based on current guidance from the Iowa Department of Public Health and Center for Disease Control, with the plan stating “additional guidance is expected to be released soon." The information within the plan Tuesday evening stated “each illness and the people who may be affected or exposed to COVID-19 will be addressed” and that “protocols in place will help isolate those who may test positive for COVID-19 and quarantine those who may have been exposed to someone with a positive diagnosis.”

Members of the board reacted positively to the recommendation, with some discussion concerning the masking requirements – with Hemann explaining a large number of masks and face shields had been ordered for the district but expected more would likely need to be ordered in the future.

“I guess for me, the recommendation is excellent, Terry did a nice job of putting that together,” board member Jeremy Parsons said. “As I read this again ‘masks or face shields will be required for students who physically attend school.’ It’s required, it’s not saying when you’re required to wear it, so I think maybe we do have teacher discretion covered in there. Personally I don’t necessarily like the masks, that’s just me personally … but I also understand it has to be done if you want to go back to school and stay in school. Nothing in the world is normal right now, this is just part of what we have to do. After seeing that I think we do have room in there for the teachers to have some discretion.”

“I expect there as we get more guidance, as things change that we make adjustments,” board member Dean Mechler said. “This might have to be a little bit of a living document.”

The board voted unanimously to approve the recommendation. Additional information will be released in the coming days by the various building principals.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: