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Muscatine County schools offer online alternatives, lean towards mandatory masks for start of school
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Muscatine County schools offer online alternatives, lean towards mandatory masks for start of school

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MUSCATINE COUNTY — As schools prepare for the fall semester, many Muscatine County families are wondering what their options will be, as well as what safety measures the schools are putting into place to assure safety for their students.

In response, several schools in the county — including Muscatine, Louisa-Muscatine and West Liberty have decided to also offer online-only education for families who cannot return to school due to the coronavirus or feel uncomfortable doing so.

Muscatine Community School District first announced an online option for students during the board’s July 15 meeting. The main purpose for creating this option, as described by Superintendent Christopher Clint, was to assure that families choosing this option would have access to the same staff, curriculum and resources as other Muscatine students.

“That’s what they’re getting,” Clint said at the meeting. “That’s a benefit to them as opposed to going into a state-provided online option where they may have no connections to whoever’s teaching.”

In addition, MCSD will partner with Muscatine Power and Water to provide devices and additional WiFi access options for families.

The district has not yet been decided whether masks will be required in the school buildings.

Louisa-Muscatine schools will offer a “1:1 computer initiative” for the school year, assigning a device to each student whether they are attending classes in person or from home, to assure equal access among all students. While they are currently hoping to have a full return to classes, L-M is also expected to bring students back on August 17, one week before the designated start date, to make it a more gradual return and provide more instructional hours.

For additional safety measures, L-M has also announced that school buildings and buses will be hydrostatically cleaned before each school day with additional spraying occurring in the case of a symptomatic student. Hand sanitizing and disinfecting procedures are also expected to be put in place.

L-M Superintendent Mike Van Sickle said the district’s current plans may change depending on what Governor Reynolds suggests for Iowa schools during a press conference about the issue Thursday.

While Muscatine and L-M schools are hoping for a full return, West Liberty schools have decided that the “hybrid plan” is the most feasible option for them, according to a letter sent out by Superintendent Dr. Diego Giraldo. This plan has already been approved by the West Liberty Board of Education.

As such, elementary, middle and high school students will attend school using an A/B rotation schedule, with each group attending for one week and then attending virtually the next week, taking turns in the building. They will also be using Seesaw and Google Classroom for their virtual learning, with an online-only option also being available.

On July 20, the West Liberty Board of Education approved the required use of face-coverings for students who are attending on-site classes. Students will also need to wear masks on school buses, and only students and staff will be allowed into Wilton buildings. Protocols for breakfast/lunch, transitions, hallway usage, after school activities and more are still being developed.

Wilton schools will require face masks to help assure that their 100% in-person instruction plan is safe, and Wilton Community School District will provide appropriate face masks to any student or staff member who doesn’t have them. However, an online-only alternative through Edgenuity will also be offered.

Additionally, according to the Wilton Return to Learn plan, all students and staff are encouraged to perform self-screenings before they come to school, and visitors and volunteers will not be allowed in the building. Some other guidelines from the plan include handwashing routines, teachers leaving their classroom doors open to help with airflow, and physical touching such as high-fives, handshakes and hugs will be prohibited.

The Columbus Junction School District is also strongly encouraging their students to use face masks, though it is still not known if they will be mandatory. However, cleaning, disinfecting and social distancing protocols, such as rearranged schedules and classrooms, will be put into place according to CJ Superintendent Jeff Maeder.

Columbus Junction schools are planning to start classes with all students, however there will be plans for both hybrid and remote learning, should they be needed if COVID-19 cases in the district begin to spike. Both plans will utilize online learning and possibly packets. As for which hybrid plan the district will use, this is still being decided and will be based on survey feedback from CJ families and staff.

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