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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

School’s out for … Grinnell-Newburg as staff quarantines force the district online

Grinnell middle school will no longer hold in-person classes for the next two weeks. Photo by Chris Lee.

On Friday afternoon, Nov. 13, students in the Grinnell-Newburg Community School District said goodbye to their teachers and classmates and collected their supplies for online learning.

The school district plans to return to an online-learning-only model starting Monday, Nov. 16, to continue until at least Dec. 2.

Janet Stutz, superintendent of the Grinnell-Newburg Community School District, has the authority to shut down in-person learning for two days, but any closure longer than that requires approval from the Iowa Department of Education. Stutz filed a request to move online on Nov.13, which was subsequently accepted. Requests are approved for a period of two weeks at a time. This means that any proposal to keep the district closed until after Dec. 2 will require another request from Stutz.

Approval is not guaranteed, though the Department of Education has approved 17 district requests since Nov. 11. “They’re not denying anybody right now because of the numbers,” Stutz said.

That wasn’t always the case, though. In August, several school districts applied to teach online, but their applications were rejected. Those districts were ultimately made to start in person, after Iowa courts ruled they had to start the school year in person.

The decision to go online in Grinnell didn’t come as a result of the total number of cases but was made because of the number of people currently under quarantine, especially staff.

“If you’re missing that many staff you can’t cover supervision for students,” Stutz said. “I had a whole group of kitchen staff that couldn’t work and so we were struggling with doing meals.”

Since Oct. 31, cases of COVID-19 in Iowa have skyrocketed, surpassing rates that were already among the highest in the country. In the past two weeks, the total number of new daily cases went from 1,840 to 4,562, as of Nov. 14. In the last week, the test positivity rate for COVID-19 has stayed at or near 45 percent. Over the past 10 days, Poweshiek county has been averaging anywhere between 20 and 50 new cases a day.In the last week, 11 staff members and one student have tested positive for COVID-19, but Iowa is currently only testing for COVID-19 in people with symptoms, and those under 18 are less likely to show signs of having the virus.

Stutz said that, according to contact tracing, the school district has not been a major source of COVID-19 transmission in the community. “We’ve had two incidences [of students catching the virus while at school]. That’s it,” she said.

Despite this, Stutz doesn’t support closing down businesses in Poweshiek county as a way to stop the virus. “If these businesses in town can’t function, or close down, that’s going to be devastating for the town,” Stutz said.

The district has been prepared for the possibility of going back online since in-person classes resumed in September. “We’re in better shape than we were in the spring, because teachers have been practicing the tools that they will use online in class,” said Stutz.

Breakfast and lunch will still be available for pickup Monday through Friday outside Grinnell High School for all students registered in the district.

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