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Return to learn plan approved

FD district plans a return to traditional learning, with 2 other education models as backups

Regardless of how schools choose to approach the fall 2020 semester during this COVID-19 pandemic, not everyone is going to be satisfied.

No one knows this more than Jesse Ulrich, superintendent of the Fort Dodge Community School District.

“As a district, we’re trying to balance educating children with keeping our staff and our students safe,” Ulrich said.

For now, the district is planning “face-to-face, normal instruction” in the schools beginning Aug. 25.

Even though the district calls this a “traditional model of learning,” it will look much different than what classroom learning looked like prior to COVID-19, Ulrich said. The district will be taking a lot more safety precautions, do a lot more cleaning and do less inter-mingling between classes. Students will not change for physical education classes and locker rooms will remain closed. Buses will be cleaned between every trip.

Students and staff will be allowed to wear face masks, but will not be required to do so, Ulrich said.

The FDCSD has two other learning models planned out if traditional classroom learning is deemed too risky.

The first is a hybrid learning environment to limit the school buildings to 50% capacity. Students would be divided into two groups, with group A attending school on Mondays and Tuesdays, while group B attends on Thursdays and Fridays. Both groups would work online at home on Wednesdays, when the schools are deep-cleaned.

“If we get to a point where we can’t even do the hybrid model, we will then move to learning at home,” Ulrich said. “A big change this year is the Department of Education has made it very clear that learning at home will be required with the expectation that the learning be at the same rigor and effort level as if they were in the classroom.”

The district is implementing a 1-to-1 ratio of students with electronic devices like Chromebook laptops and iPads this school year to better support at-home learning. All students from transitional kindergarten through 12th grade will receive a device. The district has also added wireless internet access to all school building parking lots, so families without home internet access can use the web.

Ulrich noted that the district will likely switch among the three learning models throughout the year, depending on the local COVID-19 status. It’s even possible that one building in the district could be full-time face-to-face, while another could be working with the hybrid model at the same time — it just depends on the needs of the schools.

“There is no clear-cut playbook for how we’re going to handle every one of these situations,” Ulrich told the FDCSD Board of Education on Monday night. “I pre-apologize because at some given point, parents will not be happy with how we’re educating the children.”

During the school board’s meeting on Monday night, the board approved this plan with the three education models.

Ulrich noted that there is no perfect substitute for face-to-face instruction for a teacher and student, but these alternatives are necessary because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Yes, there is a risk of students coming to school and being exposed to COVID … but at the same time, when looking at educating the whole child, there are a lot of other risk factors for kids not being at school,” the superintendent said. “At the same time, I also want to be loud and clear when I say if students are not safe coming to school, we are not going to bring them to school.”

Ulrich said that he hopes parents, staff and families will “allow grace and understanding” if the district’s education plans have to change with little to no notice, as the COVID-19 situation could change at any time.

The sole authority on whether or not school is open or closed rests with the Fort Dodge Community School District, Ulrich added.

For students who need accommodation this school year, such as those with preexisting conditions or those with family members with vulnerable immune systems, the FDCSD will offer an at-home learning option. Those who need accommodations should contact their building principal.

Ulrich said the district will provide the best support it can to families of students with special needs to ensure their health, safety and education needs are taken care of.

“Remember, we’re still about six weeks away from kids coming back to school and a lot of things will change between now and then,” Ulrich added. “This is our best guess and effort at putting a plan together with what we know now.”

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