MFL MarMac provides more details on Return to Learn plan

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By Audrey Posten, Times-Register

In a proclamation issued Friday, Gov. Kim Reynolds ordered Iowa’s school districts to “take all efforts” to resume in-person education for the upcoming school year. 

The expectation, she said, is that over 50 percent of subjects will be offered in the school building unless schools receive approval from the Iowa Department of Education, with consultation from the Iowa Department of Public Health, to implement remote learning either district- or building-wide, or for individual students or classrooms, in response to public health conditions in the community. The proclamation also allows parents to voluntarily select a remote learning opportunity from multiple options provided by the school district.

The governor’s announcement came as districts, under the direction of the Iowa Department of Education, have worked months to develop their own “Return to Learn” plans, which were submitted to the state July 1. 

According to superintendent Dale Crozier, MFL MarMac’s plan consists of three possible scenarios: on-site learning, continuous or remote learning, which is required online learning, or a hybrid of both. 

“It’s hard to have a plan when we don’t know exactly what we’re going to have when we start,” Crozier admitted at the July 13 school board meeting. “We’re hoping [the number of COVID-19 cases] just fall off and go down to nothing. But that’s not a good strategy. I’ve got to have more than just hope. I’ve got to do something, and we’re doing a lot.”

Classes at MFL MarMac are slated to start Aug. 24, and Crozier said the current plan is to “physically come back.”

“I want the teachers to come back and feel safe. I want the families to feel safe,” he said. “I’ve been surveying a lot of families, and our families want to come back to school, and that’s the plan.”

However, Crozier realizes some will feel reluctant.

“We’re going to do everything we can to make sure they know their child is going to be safe,” he said. “If they can’t be safe, we’re going to provide alternatives for them.”

That would include utilizing one of the district’s new online learning system platforms. Teachers for grades four through 12 will provide lessons on the site Canvas, while the elementary will use Seesaw. They will have to be prepared to offer both synchronous and asynchronous learning.

“Synchronous learning is what we’re doing right now,” Crozier explained. “But if I was recording myself and someone watched it later, that was asynchronous learning. It’s a real-time experience between you and the teacher, but it’s not at the same time. That’s what you do with continuous learning, along with packets and films.”

McGregor Center Principal Denise Mueller said Keystone AEA is helping special education teachers who might struggle with this concept. 

“They’re going to have different modules for them to go through and figure out how to best educate different populations of kids,” she shared.

Along with the learning platforms, the district’s JMC site will continue to be used for grading, in addition to offering online options for registration and lunch payments this year.

When in-person school resumes this fall, the Iowa Departments of Education and Public Health won’t require students and staff to wear face coverings or be temperature checked before entering buildings. Crozier said MFL MarMac could implement its own local requirements, but it’s likely the only place students will be asked to wear face coverings is on the bus, where social distancing is more difficult.

“The other option, if they don’t like it, is to not ride the bus and have parents take them to school,” he told the board. “We’re going to encourage as many parents as possible to bring their kids to school, then we’ll have less kids riding the bus.”

The district is also looking at adding another shuttle between Monona and McGregor and making rural routes smaller. 

Although one-way halls will be implemented, Crozier said face coverings may also be helpful when students are gathered in lines and during “passing time.” MFL MarMac is not sure yet if, or how much, students will utilize lockers this school year.

The district will have personal protective equipment, or PPE, available for staff who want them. It’s not planning on providing PPE to students, but Crozier said protection will be provided if students cannot afford it.

School board president Gina Roys noted the district will have to speak with students about face coverings, encouraging them to respect others’ decisions to wear or not to wear them. 

“The whole culture is going to have to be OK if you do, and it’s OK if you don’t,” she explained.

As the year proceeds, Crozier said everyone will have to use common sense, and “think about what we do as we do it. I’m going to have to change my ways once school starts.”

“We have to take it on a case-by-case basis, look at what’s recommended and actual research and data,” added board member Jonathon Moser. “We distance as much as we can. Being a rural school, we have smaller class sizes, so that will be easier. Encouraging our teachers to take their classrooms outside, if that space is available.”

Along with distancing measures, MFL MarMac is taking cleaning seriously too. According to Crozier, the district currently has 100 gallons of sanitizer and 100 gallons of disinfectant on hand, as well as equipment to help staff clean in an efficient way.

The school will also rely on parents to screen their kids for illness at home.

“Parents sending their kids because of lack of daycare, lack of options, is a real issue in our community. But if you’re sick, stay home,” Moser said. “The community is going to have to be involved this school year. We have to have collaboration with our parents and say, ‘Hey, we’re all in this together.’”

Crozier said the district will provide more information, and answer additional questions, about its plan in the coming weeks. 

“It’s going to change, and there are going to be a million questions from everybody,” Moser warned. “I hope the public and community realizes we, you, the teachers, everybody is working with the best information they have.”

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