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Plymouth County Schools That Delayed Starting Because Of Coronavirus Positivity Rate Start Thursday

Marcus Meriden Cleghorn and Remsen Union school districts wanted to see Plymouth County’s two-week rate of positive coronavirus tests drop below 20 percent on Wednesday before starting school Thursday. But that didn't happen. They're still starting school in person on Thursday.

Plymouth County schools that delayed their start date because of the county’s high coronavirus positivity rate will welcome students to in-person classes on Thursday.

Marcus Meriden Cleghorn and Remsen Union school districts wanted to see Plymouth County’s two-week rate of positive coronavirus tests drop below 20 percent on Wednesday before starting school Thursday. But that didn’t happen. Plymouth County is at 21.9 percent as of 6 p.m. Wednesday, a higher rate than two days ago when it was 20.8 percent.

“I’m not wild about starting school when we have a 20 percent plus COVID positivity rate,” said MMCRU Superintendent Dan Barkel.

But Barkel acknowledged that this is the “best decision” for MMCRU because only 7 percent of Plymouth County’s total positive cases are attributed to children ages 0-17. Floyd Valley Community Health Manager Tara Geddes, the director of Plymouth County’s public health department, confirmed this.

The other reason Barkel said administrators and the school boards decided to start classes on Thursday is because families really want their kids to get back to school.

“It’s just a crying need from our families that they really want to get our kids in the building and get started,” Barkel said.

Barkel said he has already heard from parents after MMCRU announced school would start Thursday.

“And I think based upon the reaction I’ve already gotten from some parents and families, they seem to be very gratified that we’re at least going to try to get school off the ground here this week,” Barkel said.

A memo signed by Barkel that the school districts posted to their Facebook page Wednesday morning announcing the Thursday start date garnered positive reaction from people. One person commented “Good news!” Another commented “Yay!”

MMCRU has students in Cherokee and Plymouth counties and does a grade-sharing agreement. The middle school is in Remsen, a town of about 1,600 in Plymouth County.

Plymouth County’s two-week positivity rate is the highest in Iowa. As of Wednesday at 6 p.m., it is one of two counties with a rate above 20 percent. Tara Geddes, Plymouth County’s public health director, told IPR on Monday the county has seen an outbreak of cases in Akron that are tied to a recent golf tournament. She said Remsen is also seeing an increase in cases, “tied to multiple small clusters of events.”

Last week when MMCRU announced it would delay its Monday start date to Thursday, a memo from Barkel said, “Classes will begin on August 27 if the percent positive in Plymouth and Cherokee Counties are below 20% on August 26.” Since the rate is still above 20 percent, Barkel acknowledged the change in the districts’ decision and the “mixed messages.”

“We know that this is different from what was shared in an earlier letter on August 21, but we feel the best decision for students and families is to start school,” Barkel wrote.

He continued, “We apologize for the inconvenience of not having school earlier this week and the mixed messages we have inadvertently sent with our communications. COVID-19 continues to be a difficult virus to contain, and how it is measured has also made it very difficult for us to make decisions in regard to scheduling.”

MMCRU’s schools will end two hours early on Thursday because of heat. That’s also the case for Remsen St. Mary’s, a Catholic school. Remsen St. Mary’s also delayed its start date because of the county’s high positivity rate. The school's principal did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.

Iowa schools and school districts in counties with a 14-day average positivity rate of at least 15 percent can request permission to move to majority virtual learning. But Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has said at least 10 percent of their students must be absent for a school to get a waiver to do so.

Katie Peikes was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio from 2018 to 2023. She joined IPR as its first-ever Western Iowa reporter, and then served as the agricultural reporter.