Jaeger shares insight into ‘Return to Learn’

Governor urges in-person learning in the fall
Kim Brooks
Express Editor

     Last week, Gov. Kim Reynolds held a press conference and issued a public health proclamation, advancing Iowa’s “Return to Learn” plans.

     “In-person instruction is the presumed method of instruction for all school districts and accredited non-public schools during the 2020-21 school year,” stated the proclamation.

     Reynolds outlined some key strategies to get kids back to school:

     • All state agencies, school districts, and local governments are to focus on preparing to safely welcome students and teachers back to school, in-person, in the fall.

     • Only under certain conditions and guidelines can schools move primarily to remote/online learning. One of those conditions is when parents choose remote learning as the best option for their child and family.

     “The Department of Education in consultation with the IDPH (Iowa Department of Public Health) approves a temporary move to online learning for an entire building or district in response to public health conditions,” Reynolds noted of an additional remote learning condition.

     • Addresses concerns regarding the teacher workforce. Reynolds’ proclamation removes the limitations on how long substitute teachers can teach.

     “Expanding the pool of Iowans who are eligible to serve as substitute teachers to include career and technical teachers already in the classroom, paraeducators, and those with an associate’s degree or at least two years of college courses,” she explained.

     Monticello Superintendent Dr. Brian Jaeger recently shared some insights into Monticello Community School District’s Return to Learn plan, noting that nothing is official until the school board meets on July 27.

     “We’ve been spending a lot of time having discussions on this,” he said in a video released to the public. “If we’ve done anything, we’ve at least narrowed down the framework that we released before.”

     That framework was released in late June, and stipulated the MCSD’s plan would involve in-person and online learning options.

     Prior to the governor’s press conference, Jaeger said brick-and-mortar education entails having the students and staff all back inside the classrooms.

     “We’ll also have full-time, online education going on in our school district when we start in the fall, which means you can take 100 percent of your classes from home,” offered Jaeger. “Or you can have a hybrid and do a little bit of both; you can take a couple of classes at home and come to school for the hours you feel it’s safe for you to learn. We want to try and create the right educational environment for every family.”

     Jaeger said so much concerning the virus has changed since March, and it’s hard to know what to prepare for.

     “It’s a fluid situation and all we can do is react to the responses and do the best we can,” he said. “We want to create the best situation for these kids under any circumstance.”

     He also acknowledged the strong feelings not only shared within the Monticello community but also nationwide regarding the re-opening of schools in the fall.

     “It’s becoming polarized,” he said.

     It all comes down to providing the safest option for everyone.

     A couple of weeks ago, the district put out a plea on social media asking the public to donate facemasks of all sizes to the schools. Jaeger said he knows facemasks can be a “hot button issue,” but wanted to be prepared. While the decision has not been made to require masks inside the schools, Jaeger hinted they would likely require facemasks for those riding the school buses to and from school.

     “We want them available for those who don’t have one,” he said.

     As to whether the school will have to mandate social distancing inside each of the buildings, Jaeger said, “Not at this point.

     “Encouraging social distancing may not be possible,” he added. “But it will be recommended.”

     The MCSD has been in communication with the IDPH and Jones County Public Health, as well as the Department of Education in formatting a Return to Learn plan.

     Surveys were also sent out to all of the families within the district to get a feel for what people prefer. The school also sought opinions from the teachers and staff.

     “Our building principals met with staff and the staff is split as much as the community is regarding safety precautions,” noted Jaeger.

     From all of those viewpoints, the school will shape its Return to Learn and present it to the school board on July 27 for finalization before releasing it to the public.

     “Understand that from Aug. 1 to 24, a lot could change,” warned Jaeger of the COVID-19 virus. “So we’re going to do the best we can to plan every scenario that we can but a lot could still change before Aug. 24 (the first day of school).”

     On July 6, the school started offering driver’s education again. Students and instructors were all wearing masks while inside the vehicles, as well as during classroom instruction.

     Jaeger said temperatures are being taken daily of the students, as well as the little kids coming to Panther Academy (twice a day).

     The number of kids attending Panther Academy is around 18-20 per day; they typically average around 50.

     To keep everyone healthy, field trips have been cancelled and additional staff was hired to assist with cleaning and sanitizing.

     When it comes to registering students for the fall, that entire process will be done online this year, not in-person.

     And the open house events that families look forward to just before the first day of school will no longer be held.

     “Those open houses are packed with people,” Jaeger said, noting that large-group events are not recommended right now.


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