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Education

Northwest Iowa School Districts Stick With In-Person Learning As Coronavirus Cases Increase

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The superintendents of MOC-Floyd Valley, Sheldon and Sibley-Ocheyedan school districts said they plan to continue with in-person learning at this time despite the high rate of new coronavirus cases in their counties.

Even as new coronavirus cases quickly increase across northwest Iowa, school leaders say they’re doing what they can to keep their students in class.

The superintendents of MOC-Floyd Valley, Sheldon and Sibley-Ocheyedan school districts said Wednesday they plan to continue with in-person learning at this time despite the high rate of new coronavirus cases in their counties.

More than 200 students and staff from the Sibley-Ocheyedan Community School District are in isolation or quarantine because of COVID-19, as of Wednesday night. That includes Superintendent James Craig, who is quarantining after he was exposed to COVID-19.

“I haven’t had a conversation about education in two weeks,” Craig said. “That’s the most stressful thing for me. Every waking moment that I’m spending right now is on COVID mitigation in the school. It’s on quarantine of students.”

Craig said moving the district to hybrid or virtual learning would make it harder for staff to keep tabs on students and their mental health. The district is developing a plan to split up classrooms that currently can’t social distance.

“By increasing social distancing, we’re keeping ourselves in control of what is most important to us, and that is having the safest learning environment for our students possible and keeping them in school,” Craig said.

Craig said some of the classrooms have too many students to be able to social distance, including some high school classes that have at least 30 students. The school district is looking to get new social distancing guidelines in place on Monday.

“We’re trying to get every classroom carved down to an appropriate number of students to fit within the social distancing guidelines, and then move classes around as necessary to make that happen,” Craig said.

Sibley-Ocheyedan school district is in Osceola County, which has a 14-day positivity rate of 26.4 percent as of Wednesday night. Nearby Lyon County also has a 14-day positivity rate above 20 percent. Sioux County has a 14-day positivity rate of 30.3 percent – the highest in the state.

MOC-Floyd Valley School District has students in Sioux and O'Brien counties. In an email to IPR, Superintendent Russ Adams said the school district has “numerous mitigation measures in place,” including coordinating with Krull Cinemas, a local movie theater company, to rent four of their theaters to use for classes so students can space out better.

“By utilizing these, as well as all of our larger spaces at the high school, we are able to socially distance in all of our classes,” Adams wrote. “At the elementary and middle school levels, we have our students organized in cohorts to minimize exposure. We are also utilizing our larger spaces and adjusting things like lunch in the classrooms at the elementary and in the cafeteria and gymnasiums at the middle and high schools.”

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said Tuesday that Sioux County’s high positivity rate isn’t tied to a specific outbreak.

The three school districts recommend that students and staff wear masks, but don't require it. Superintendent James Craig from Sibley-Ocheyedan said wearing a mask would not prevent a person from having to quarantine, so his school district left this up to personal choice.