Back Print

Decorah School Superintendent Mark Lane says nine different committees are working on the school district's

Posted: Wed, Jul 1, 2020 4:22 PM

The Decorah Area Chamber of Commerce's Kristina Wiltgen hosted a community Zoom meeting with Decorah School District's Superintendent Mark Lane on Wednesday afternoon. The virtual meeting provided space for questions about the District's recently released Return to Learn plan and other questions that have arisen over the last few months.

After a brief recap about the emergency closure of all Iowa schools, Lane highlighted some of Decorah successes with the unprecedented online learning, such as the district having one-to-one devices for all students and already having an online learning platform (Canvas) in place.  He also discussed the decision to extend the district's WiFi to help staff and students accomplish their online teaching and schooling.

There's been a load of work already completed by 9 different subcommittees, and the work will continue this summer as time will be spent trying to identify potential gaps in teaching and learning.  Lane said, "We need to identify which key standards were not able to be covered well with the online learning.  Then that information will be passed on to future teachers so they are ready to meet the students where they are.  We have to look at where students normally would be at the beginning of a new school year and adjust accordingly."

Lane emphasized the impact of COVID-19 on teachers and students.  He commented, "We will be feeling the effects of the COVID closure for years.  This was a huge event in all our lives, and it will be something that plays out for multiple years."

Even with the Return to Learn plan submitted to Iowa Department of Education, there are still many unknowns about how the 2020/2021 school year will look.  Lane assured the panel on the Zoom meeting, though, "we are trying to put ourselves in the most agile position possible for the different circumstances that could happen."

Wiltgen then asked a few questions submitted by the community prior to the meeting. 

Q: Will it be an option for students to stay home and distance learn for the first two weeks if parents aren't comfortable sending them at the beginning of the school year?  (The person asking the question was under the impression that two weeks would be enough time for any cases of COVID to show up.)

A: Lane said, "We have a survey out to parents about students who are at high-risk or family members living at home who are at high-risk, and we encourage them to get in touch with their building nurse. We know we serve medically fragile students, and we would want to be able to adapt those plans. For just "general" concerns, I would want to talk with the family.  If we can reopen safely, I would hate for a student to miss out on the first weeks of school. There's just so many things that happen, building new relationships with friends and teachers, that are just hard to replicate over Zoom. I understand the apprehension, I have a child who will be a 5th grader next year. I would just want to have that conversation and be thoughtful about the solution."

Q: Will there be extra safety precautions (temperature readings, face masks, social distancing) in the district?  Which will be required, and which will be recommended?

A: Right now today none of these measures are required, but that can change.  The next school board meeting is July 13th, and one of the school board members is Krista Vanden Brink, who is the Winneshiek County Public Health Director.  Lane feels very lucky to have someone with this background on the school board during this time to figure out what will be best for each of the schools in the district should the doors reopen in the August. Some things, like turning off all spigot "mouth" water fountains, asking teachers to help wipe down classrooms, and custodians using defogger disinfecting backpacks for buses and other areas, are already in motion.

Q: If families aren't comfortable sending their student(s) to school, what alternatives do they have?

A: The open enrollment deadline In Iowa was recently extended.  This means that families who are not comfortable sending their children to school could open enroll to one of the four districts in Iowa that are accredited online schools, including Des Moines Public Schools and Cedar Rapids Public Schools.  As a result, however, the Decorah district would lose $7,000 in funds for each student who is open enrolled to another district. Another option is to enroll with the Homeschool Assistance Program (HSAP). Lastly, if the concern about sending a student back to school is in relation to the student having a health concern or current IEP, Lane said the district will work through a plan to accommodate.

More meetings of this format may be scheduled in the future. If one is planned, it will be posted on the Decorah Area Chamber of Commerce"s website under the "Events Calendar" tab.