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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

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Feven Getachew
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Grinnell-Newburg school district welcomes the new school year and first case of coronavirus

Photo by Elena Copell

By MJ Old

Last Tuesday, Sept. 7, was the first day back in school for the Grinnell-Newburg Community School District, and as of Monday, Sept. 14, one K-9 student who attended school has already tested positive for COVID-19. Eleven others in contact with that student have since started their 14-day isolation periods.

In the district, kindergarten through eighth grade is back and fully in person, while Grinnell Community Senior High School has moved to a lower density model, alternating the days on which students receive instruction so that the building stays at around 50 percent capacity.

All students are required to wear either a face mask or a face shield at all times, except while eating and during physical education classes and recess. There are also plexiglass dividers on tabletops and between desks, and every school building receives a daily deep cleaning.

“Every student got a mask and a shield on their first day of school, and they can wear that or wear their own,” said Heidi Durbin, an assistant principal at the high school.

Even with classes back in person, many aspects of the normal school experience had to be changed. Students are not allowed to be in the high school building until classes start, which cuts out an opportunity for socializing and talking to teachers. Additionally, no more than two students are allowed to sit at the same table during lunch.

High school students now must scan their ID cards to enter the building in order to ensure that it’s their assigned day, and teachers check students’ temperatures. Students with a temperature over 100.4 degrees have to go to the nurse’s office.

Sports are also going ahead as scheduled. The summer baseball and softball seasons in Grinnell-Newburg CSD had no associated cases of COVID-19, and fall sports such as football are currently being played with a limited number of fans, with the potential to play with no fans at all if the community positivity rate reaches 15 percent.

The district has applied for a FEMA grant to reimburse 85 percent of the costs associated with resuming schools during the pandemic. “The most expensive thing is the deep cleaner,” said Janet Stutz, superintendent of the Grinnell-Newburg CSD. “They spray it in every single room, every surface, every night and it dries so you don’t have to wipe it down. But oh, man, it smells like bug spray.”

Support from the local community has also helped provide the supplies necessary for reopening. The Education Board, Grinnell Mutual and the Iowa Department of Education all donated supplies such as masks and hand sanitizer.

“We had the quilting group in Grinnell make masks for our kids because we needed child-sized ones,” Stutz said. “Everyone has been so wonderful helping us out.”

Though the most recent Grinnell College National Poll shows that a majority of Americans believe that it is unsafe for schools to operate in person at any grade level, the district is pushing ahead.

If families don’t feel comfortable sending their students back to school, they can continue remote learning. According to Stutz, 197 students in the district have already opted to take their classes online.

Ashton Hale, a senior at Grinnell High School, expressed no worry about coming back in person. “My parents basically entered this whole situation with, if I feel safe and confident enough to return to school, then I am absolutely allowed to. Our staff and students at GHS are very aware of the threat that COVID-19 is, and we’re doing everything possible in order to regulate the risk of contamination.”

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds has generally encouraged schools to open, a policy which is more in line with President Trump’s wishes than CDC recommendations. Currently, Iowa public schools are required to have at least 50 percent of instruction in person unless the district reaches a 20 percent positivity rate for COVID-19 or 10 percent absenteeism.

“[20 percent] is too high for our comfort zone and so at 15 percent is when we will start having the conversation about what we’re going to do,” Stutz said.

The superintendent only has the power to close school for two weeks. To keep schools closed for longer requires a special waiver from the state.

Overall, students and teachers alike seem to be managing. “

It’s the adults that are like ‘this is so different.’ We’ve done school the same way for so long that it’s harder for us sometimes than the kids,” Durbin said. “I have a colleague at the elementary and they were like, ‘These little kids don’t care, they’re wearing a mask everywhere.’ It’s not a big deal.

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