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Three Northwest Iowa School Districts Moving To Hybrid Learning

Hinton Community School District announced it will move students in fourth through 12th grade to its hybrid plan beginning Wednesday. Marcus Meriden Cleghorn and Remsen Union school districts will start their hybrid plan on Thursday.

Three northwest Iowa school districts will move students to hybrid learning this week because of Plymouth County’s high rate of coronavirus infections and an increase in absences among students.

Hinton Community School District announced it will move students in fourth through 12th grade to its hybrid plan beginning Wednesday. Students in PK through third grade will continue learning on site. The school district has an enrollment of about 800 students.

The district wrote in a notice to families that though staff “highly encourage” students to wear masks in the fourth through 12th grade halls, “compliance is not at a level that assures us we are lessening the opportunity for transmission.”

Plymouth County has one of the highest rates of coronavirus infections in Iowa over a two-week period, at 22.4 percent as of 5 p.m. Tuesday. The Hinton school district said in a notice to families that the local community is also seeing a rise in coronavirus cases.

“Based on this change in our community, an increase in student absences, and feedback from staff, we are changing our learning model,” the school district wrote.

Under the district’s hybrid plan, roughly half the students will learn in person on Mondays and Wednesdays or Tuesdays and Thursdays. They will learn online for the three days a week where they are not in a school building.

Hinton has not set a date for students to return to full in-person learning, but said families will be told if the data changes to a point where all students can return to in-person learning or if the district needs to transition to virtual learning.

Marcus Meriden Cleghorn and Remsen Union school districts in Cherokee and Plymouth counties will move to its hybrid plan beginning Thursday and running through Sept. 22.

Superintendent Dan Barkel wrote in a letter to the community that the decision comes as “a high number” of students in the Remsen Union middle school are quarantining because of exposure to COVID-19 and “a high number” of staff members at the Marcus Meriden Cleghorn school in Marcus are symptomatic and waiting to receive test results.

In an interview with IPR, Barkel said moving MMCRU students to the hybrid plan was an “incredibly difficult decision.”

“I wish we didn’t have to go to hybrid quite honestly because I think the kids lose out educationally,” Barkel said.

Barkel said he was “running out of staff bodies” at the Marcus school, which has PK through fourth graders and ninth through 12 grade students. Additionally, 44 students in preschool through eighth grade are quarantining, which does not include students who are distance learning or students missing from school due to illness or other reasons, he said.

“It’s basically hey throw in the towel and hope we can get more people healthy so that we can go back to face-to-face with everybody,” Barkel said, on the decision to move to hybrid learning.

MMCRU, which is two school districts that have a grade sharing agreement, has an enrollment of more than 700 students.

Under MMCRU’s hybrid plan, roughly half the students will learn on-site on Mondays and Tuesdays and learn online Thursdays and Fridays. The other half will spend Thursdays and Fridays on site and Mondays and Tuesdays online. Teachers will work on professional development on Wednesdays.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds is allowing school districts to request permission from the Iowa Department of Education to move to majority virtual learning if the percent of positive coronavirus cases in their county reaches at least 15 percent over a 14-day period. Additionally, at least 10 percent of students must be absent.

Plymouth County’s 14-day positivity rate exceeded 15 percent on Aug. 19 and exceeded 20 percent on Aug. 21, according to the director of Plymouth County’s health department. The positivity rate has stayed above 20 percent since.

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.