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Sioux City School District Takes Steps To Address Virtual Learning Issues


The Sioux City Community School District has created a task force to work through problems with virtual learning. This comes after complaints of large class sizes and insufficient teacher training.

District leaders reported two weeks ago that nearly 900 students dropped virtual learning and moved to in-person instruction in the first 13 days of school. The district balanced class sizes and moved five teachers from in-person to virtual learning after it heard concerns about overcrowded classes.

At Monday’s school board meeting, the district’s elementary education director Brian Burnight said the average virtual class size ranges from about 19 to 24 elementary kids. He said that while some classes have as many as 40 students, things have improved over the past two weeks.

“So these are much better ratios with the idea that the classroom teachers working virtually will spend no more than a couple of hours of direct instruction with any group of students, and have a couple of groups of students, getting those in the realm of traditional class size experience for those kids,” Burnight said.

A parent had complained at the last board meeting that her son’s second-grade virtual class had 55 students.

Another virtual learning problem that the district addressed was high school teachers with packed schedules and limited time to work with students, said Jim Vanderloo, the district’s director of secondary education.

“We consolidated their teaching time from eight periods to seven periods,” Vanderloo said. “This allowed for an additional 40-minute period for a teacher to work again with students, create lessons, work with small groups, et cetera.“

Vanderloo said a task force of teachers and administrators will continue to look into issues and work through the challenges of virtual learning.

“We will continue to monitor and make adjustments," Vanderloo said. "So we will make adjustments as time goes on if this taskforce believes adjustments need to be made."

The task force will have its first meeting this week.

The school district initially had 50 teachers dedicated to virtual instruction exclusively, with more than 3,100 students enrolled in virtual learning at the beginning of the school year.

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.