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Small Southwest Iowa School District Seeks Waiver For Virtual Learning

Hamburg's School Superintendent wrote in a letter to families that about 23 percent of the district’s elementary students and 39 percent of the middle school students were home ill on Friday.

A southwest Iowa school district requested a waiver Friday from the Iowa Department of Education to move to virtual learning for two weeks after coronavirus cases have been spiking in the area and have been trickling into the school.

Hamburg Community School District Superintendent Mike Wells wrote in a letter to families that about 23 percent of the district’s elementary students and 39 percent of the middle school students were home ill on Friday. One middle school student and four staff members are confirmed to have COVID-19. Six staff members are quarantining because of exposure. Wells said in an interview with IPR that he suspects there are more cases among students.

Hamburg has nearly 150 students in Kindergarten through eighth grade and has 16 teachers. Wells said Hamburg doesn’t have enough staff to teach in-person classes next week.

“We’re a small school and we have people in quarantine and we have people that are positive COVID,” Wells said. “We simply can’t run. We don’t have subs, we can’t find subs. And we just simply can’t offer an education live.”

Wells said he might chip in to teach students online, depending on how some of the teachers who are ill feel Sunday night.

The district applied for a waiver to do online learning for two weeks starting Monday. Wells said he is waiting to hear back from the state.

Fremont County’s 14-day infection rate is above 17 percent as of Friday night. That's above the threshold the state has set to grant requests for virtual learning. Wells’ memo pleaded with families to quarantine “as much as possible” and wear masks in public.

“We need your cooperation to help us recover from the COVID virus and avoid further shutdowns of our school,” the memo says. “Over the next two weeks we ask that you keep your children home and quarantine as much as possible. If you need to go out we ask that you wear a mask and require your children to wear a mask. Our staff will use these two weeks to recover from exposure and return to good health so they are able to teach.”

The district will hold classes over Zoom. Staff will deliver breakfast and lunch to students' homes, according to the memo.

Hamburg Community School District has required all students and staff to wear masks, but allows students to take them off when they’re sitting in their classroom. They wear masks during recess. Wells said most desks are 6 feet apart and those that are not have plexiglass shields around them. He said the district will look at its mask policy again and revisit its cleaning procedures.

Fremont-Mills Community School District in Tabor moved to remote learning Sept. 21 for one week after nine students tested positive for the coronavirus. After coronavirus cases nearly doubled, the district made a request to extend remote learning one week. Fremont-Mills plans to return to full in-person classes on Oct. 5.

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.