IOWA CITY, Iowa (KCRG) – School districts across eastern Iowa have been working on a plan to resume classes during the novel coronavirus pandemic. Whether that means going online or in-person, remains to be seen for many.
Leaders at one private elementary school, Willowwind School in Iowa City, say they have done their research and they are planning to bring students back to the classroom starting on August 24.
“We knew if it’s possible and if it’s safe for our students and our employee community, we want to be back on-site together,” Michelle Beninga, the head of school at Willowwind, said.
Beninga says after months of work, she and others with the school are confident they can bring both staff and students back safely.
“It can be done,” Beninga said. “You have to be incredibly careful in how you do it, but really looking at classrooms individually and those kiddos working in those classrooms, that we can be successful.”
The return to campus for about 90 students and 20 staff will come with clear and obvious changes. Some of them include requiring all students and staff to wear a mask. Class start times, pickups and drop-offs will be staggered to promote social distancing, and no class will have more than 15 students. The students and staff will also participate in a lot of hand-washing and will be subject to daily health screenings.
Beninga admits the small school has a big advantage in the size of its population.
“We are really, really fortunate that we are talking about less than 100 students and 20 employees,” Beninga said. “We have the ability to utilize our small size to our advantage.”
The changes implemented by leaders at Willowwind School are “on the right track,” according to infectious disease physician Dr. David Kusner with Mercy Iowa City.
“Having people wear masks will be a very big step and we’re going to have to work out how that will be, say for some of the smaller kids,” Kusner said. “And then we have to adapt the plans for each community.”
Kusner said there are some strategies some larger districts could use, too, as they prep to return to learn.
“It’s good to have some people that are spotters as you go and say: ‘I’m walking through the halls, what am I seeing?’ Because things being what they are and children being what they are, things are going to come up unexpected,” Kusner said. “And we want to respond to them in an understanding and compassionate way.”
While Willowwind School may be one of the first to officially plan in-person classes, Beninga says it is ultimately a community effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, especially in area schools.
“We are all in this together,” Beninga said. “Our goal is to educate our future generations, and in today’s world we need to look at how we can do that safely.”
Kusner said ultimately the best way to handle the pandemic safely is to reduce the infection rate more, something he admits is hard to predict.
“Iowa started to control it, then it came back up again, and everybody else in the country is dealing with the same challenge,” Kusner said. “Can we get it down again, so that in the next four to six weeks, could we make it be decreasing? That would be the best way to make it happen.”
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