Area schools closed upon governor's recommendation

Robert Maharry
The Grundy Register

GRUNDY COUNTY- Less than a day after Governor Kim Reynolds recommended that Iowa schools close for four weeks in response to the coronavirus outbreak, all five of Grundy County’s public school districts and Timothy Christian have followed suit and suspended classes until at least Monday, April 13.


With the total number of confirmed cases surpassing 20 and spread across different areas of the state—from Council Bluffs to Iowa City to Des Moines to Allamakee—community events, classes and sporting events have been cancelled en masse. 


Grundy Center schools were already on spring break Monday, and Superintendent Robert Hughes issued a directive that no district personnel or students enter the facilities as a result of the governor’s recommendation.


According to a notice posted on the district website, students in grades 6-12 will still be allowed to use their school issued devices at home, and optional online learning programs will be available online.


“Our highest goals are first and foremost to keep our students, staff, and community safe; support course completion and graduation; and to not overburden students and families. We are striving to meet our public community school responsibilities and serve the larger common good. We will send further communications as information and guidance are secured. We greatly appreciate your patience, understanding, and calm leadership as educational professionals,” the statement reads. “Stay Safe, Spartans.”


AGWSR, BCLUW and Dike-New Hartford offered students an optional day of classes on Monday before closing on Tuesday, and according to the districts’ websites, all are planning to stay closed for the full four weeks. Both D-NH and BCLUW held their regularly scheduled school board meetings on Monday night. Timothy Christian, the county’s only private school, is also closed until further notice.  


D-NH Superintendent Justin Stockdale told The Grundy Register that he’ll be monitoring the situation “week by week,” but he predicts that D-NH will follow what other schools in the area do.


“If 100 percent of school districts are going to be off for four weeks, it’s not the time to be a trailblazer during a pandemic,” he said. “I think that’s where this is trending.”


He added that at the present time, D-NH is not prepared to engage in distance learning programs, which would include online classes or instruction by telecommunication. Those forms of instruction do not count toward the 1,080 hour yearly requirement laid out by the state legislature, but Stockdale does still plan to offer some enrichment activities and learning links for students who want them in lieu of a formal program.


Another looming question is which staff members will continue to work during the shutdown, and Stockdale said it’s likely that some custodians will remain on campus along with foodservice workers to provide meals to kids who need them. The situation is “uncharted territory” for everyone involved, he noted, but the second-year superintendent thanked students, staff and parents for their patience.


“I just continue to ask for people’s patience and understanding… The difficulty comes in making a good decision that’s both responsible and reasonable,” Stockdale said. “People just have to understand that this is about containment and prevention.”


BCLUW Superintendent Ben Petty said that he’s still waiting for more guidance from state officials, and the district does plan to offer distance-learning activities while sending devices home with students. Petty is not sure of how the district’s employees will be affected at the present time.


“We still have to figure out some things on that and see what the legislature does as far as emergency unemployment,” he said. “That’s been my answer to a lot of things is that we’ve got to wait until we get more guidance to see how we move forward.”


At press time, G-R Superintendent David Hill had not responded to a request for comment. A statement on the AGWSR website indicated that all buildings are closed, breakfast and lunch offerings will be made available to students, K-5 students will be allowed to pick up devices for online learning programs on Thursday from 2 to 7 p.m. and resources will be available online for distance learning.


G-R has issued a “question and answer” document with information on a host of topics. Some highlights include the fact that district offices will remain open (but only “essential staff” will be allowed to work during the closure), G-R will not be offering meals during the shutdown and G-R will not be offering distance learning programs.


The state legislature, which is now suspended for 30 days, met in emergency session on Monday and will not require districts to make up the lost days as part of the yearly 1,080 hour requirement. Speaker of the House Pat Grassley, who resides in rural New Hartford and sends his children to D-NH, told The Grundy Register that while the situation is constantly changing, the legislature, in conjunction with the governor, is doing its best to err on the side of caution.


“As we’re making these decisions, they have to be based in facts,” Grassley said. “If you’re going to use facts and recommendations from the experts, you have to apply it to each case.”


Grassley, a Republican, began his first term as Speaker of the House in January, and he joked that his predecessor, Linda Upmeyer, never walked him through handling a nearly unprecedented outbreak across the country.


In regards to unemployment benefits for affected employees, Grassley noted that Governor Reynolds could access approximately $20 million from the state’s economic emergency fund without legislative approval, but the House and Senate did not pass any sort of comprehensive aid package during the emergency session.


“There just is no roadmap. Thankfully we have enough technology that we can still communicate with each other,” Grassley said.


The situation is changing by the day, and anyone who may be experiencing symptoms of the virus or is seeking more information is encouraged to call the 2-1-1 hotline.


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