COVID-19 can change a business’ plans within a week, day or even an hour.
On Nov. 18, the Osceola School Board agreed with the administration’s recommendations for students in grades 5-12 to return face-to-face Nov. 30 after being remote learning for two weeks.
A week later, the administration was coming with a different option, this one calling for students in grades 6-12 to remain remote through Jan. 11, 2021.
Superintendent Mark Luebker explained the change in plans during the special board meeting:
• With the number of positive cases in those grades (15 as of Nov. 24) and students having to be quarantined (42), it’s forcing staff to teach in-person and remote, which is not effective for either students or the staff.
• The threat of students having to be pulled from school due to close contact.
• The School District has lost many families to other online education opportunities. The main reason cited is consistency.
• Students would be getting live instruction every day from all teachers. He also added students are more than likely to ask for help on an individual basis than a group setting, another benefit.
In addition to the students’ numbers, there were eight positive cases among staff members at both schools, with one active.
High School Principal Adam Spiegel was a remote skeptic at first, but changed his mind after watching his freshman daughter go through a day of classes in the morning and afternoon sessions with teachers.
“She was engaged throughout,” he said. His mind was also changed after seeing the number of students who missed school during these last two weeks of being remote were less than he expected.
Board member Lanette Johnson asked about the hybrid model. Luebker said it wasn’t a model they felt would be the best for Osceola after hearing other districts starting out in hybrid and then having to go remote.
Another factor is the number of positive cases in Polk County. From Nov. 9-Nov. 20, the increase in positive cases rose from 34.62 to 27.86 percent over the previous two weeks.
“I personally feel our community isn’t doing enough,” said Luebker. “Wear a mask, wash your hands, stay home if you are sick.”
Polk County officials also told Luebker schools are doing a good job for the most part in terms of limiting the spread of COVID .
“A majority of the cases in our county are community spread,” he added.
The option to go virtual, garnered support from residents who spoke before discussion ensued.
“I don’t think we should push it,” said Stephanie Johnson, noting she knew five people who lost family members to COVID-19. “I’m concerned about the safety.”
The decision was then left to board members who ensured all in attendance, this wasn’t a decision they weren’t taking lightly.
“We need to do our job and keeping people safe,” said Kysa Marten.
Lanette Johnson talked about removing the emotion from this decision and looking at data-only. She talked about the number of teachers who have tested positive in the District is less than 1%.
Brian Meyer was concerned about the students in lab-based classes who need that day-to-day interaction with their fellow students and staff in a face-to-face setting.
“I don’t want those kids to be left behind either,” he commented.
Added President Brooke Kulzer: “Nothing is going to be normal about this as we are living through a pandemic. On this table, we have to think about what is best for the Osceola School District.”
Eventually, Marten made the motion to go with the administration’s option, which was seconded by Pete Kammerud. Meyer and Lanette Johnson voted no, leaving the deciding vote to Kulzer, who voted yes.
OES and OIS
For those in grades 4K-5, the school board also went along with the administration’s decision to give parents a choice until Jan. 11.
Families will be given a survey in which they will be asked which they prefer more for their child – in person or remote -- during this period.
The rationale, explained Luebker, is it could make numbers lower for less exposure for students and teachers; OES and OIS families have or are considering pulling their students and reenrolling when they feel it is safe. The District stated it believes in lost learning, a lack of continuity, and could impact funding.
If there are enough families who voted virtual, a teacher at each grade level could be designated the teacher.
As for confirmed cases, as of the meeting, there was one positive student, 13 in quarantine and one staff member.
In addition, the Board showed positive results to a return to school matrix created by the administration, in which the District will determine the learning models based off COVID-19 data from Polk County and the District.
The model will go for approval at the Dec. 9 meeting.