All classes in Cedar Rapids schools will shift online, starting Thursday, while the district asks the Iowa Department of Education for a two-week virtual learning waiver. So far this month, 18 Iowa school districts and parochial schools have gotten state permission to conduct all classes online.
Iowa Department of Education director Ann Lebo says a handful of others — including Cedar Rapids — have received permission for online-only instruction for students from specific buildings.
“This represents about 6% of our schools, with 446 public districts and non-public schools and 1300 buildings,” Lebow says.
Three elementary buildings in Ames closed today and students are taking classes online. The district is asking state officials to allow all Ames students through the eighth grade to shift online. Ames superintendent Jenny Risner says they’re running out of substitute teachers.
“It makes it extremely hard to appropriately staff the building and provide the level of supervision we need,” she says.
Other school administrators say they cannot find enough bus drivers to run the routes that get students to school. Lebo says there are a variety of reasons schools are seeking waivers to end in-person instruction.
“Some are based on county positivity rates, student absenteeism and, in some cases, staff absences due to virus-related reasons,” Lebo says.
In July, state officials announced pandemic benchmarks for when school districts may shift to virtual classes, but Lebo says school administrators do not have to wait until those are met.
“Schools do not have to wait until they reach both student absenteeism of 10% and a county positivity rate of above 15% to apply for a waiver. These guidelines are to assist districts when they are determining when they might want to use remote instruction, but they are only guidelines. The county positivity rate is just one factor that school districts and non-public schools should take into account and it may not be indicative among their students and staff,” Lebo says.
“Each request to use remote instruction is reviewed on a case-by-case basis with our public health colleagues and we have approved waiver requests that did not meet these specific thresholds.”
Schools may hold all classes online for 48 hours while waiting for state officials to waive the requirement for in-person classes.
“Because each situation is unique, school districts and non-public schools have a lot of flexibility to manage conditions in their schools,” Lebo says, “and can always submit a waiver request at any time.”
In addition to the pending waiver applications from Ames and Cedar Rapids, the Johnston School District will shift to remote learning tomorrow as it waits for state officials to review its waiver request.
The Iowa Department of Education’s website shows following waivers were granted yesterday (11/10/20): Benton, Clear Creek Amana, Des Moines Independent, Fort Madison, Glenwood, Iowa City, Janesville, Keokuk, Muscatine, Urbandale St. Pius X and West Liberty
The following were granted last week: Colfax-Mingo, Burlington, Newton, Marshalltown St. Francis, North Tama, Anamosa and Anamosa St. Patrick.