School districts, parents assess options as the new school year approaches


WATERLOO, Iowa (KWWL) – As cases of COVID-19 in the state and across the country continue to rise, students and teachers are now just weeks away from returning to class.

On Friday, the Iowa Department of Public Health released new guidelines for the upcoming school year. The state plans to start treating the virus the same way it treats the flu. They focus their efforts on “epidemics and vulnerable populations” and follow this strategy for all cases in the state.

The IDPH does not require masks, and students and staff who test positive for COVID-19 are not required to self-quarantine.

Starlet Smith’s sixth-grade son has not been in a classroom and is learning remotely from home since March 2020. Smith has no plans to fire him anytime soon.

“If I can help him, it won’t happen,” Smith said. “If there won’t be masks in school, I don’t want to expose him to COVID because children get COVID, and some get very sick. I want to make sure I protect my child and my child. family at all expense. “

Masks will be optional for all students and staff. In May, Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a bill banning Iowa K-12 schools, towns and counties from imposing masks. However, masks will be mandatory on school buses as the CDC’s mask order for public transportation still applies.

“I wish elementary schools would demand it just because it’s an age group that can’t be vaccinated,” said Amber Young, whose three children will be returning to class in person.

Her two older boys in eighth and tenth grades have both been vaccinated. Her youngest, who is in kindergarten, is not old enough.

“We’re talking about a kindergarten child,” Young said. “She’s not going to wear a mask on purpose, even if I want to. If her friends don’t, she won’t.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Iowa State Education Association have called on all teachers, staff, students and visitors to wear masks in schools, regardless of their immunization status.

According to the CDC, 14 of the 21 counties in eastern Iowa in the KWWL observation area are at a “high level of transmission of COVID-19.” Several cities and counties have reinstated mask warrants in government buildings and recommended that people continue to wear masks indoors.

“For my family and I, we will try to do our best to stay safe,” Smith said. “And if that means continuing to learn at home, that’s what we’ll do.”

Smith said his son was lucky that many of his friends were also distance learning, so he didn’t miss out on the social aspects of school.

“Eventually, I’d like him to go back to school and be able to have, you know, this normal learning environment, but not if there won’t be a need for masks,” Smith said.

The Marion Independent School District where Smith’s son attends and the Cedar Rapids Community School District are expected to discuss the new guidelines at school board meetings on Monday. Other districts are expected to make decisions in the coming weeks.

According to a copy of the district’s return to learning plan updated in July, MISD plans to require students and staff who test positive for COVID-19 to quarantine themselves for 10 days and report it to the district.

Families can decide for themselves whether or not to keep their children at home if they are exposed to someone who later tests positive for the virus.

The HDI will also not force people who are COVID-19 positive to self-quarantine for a period of time, but will say they must refrain from normal activities for 10 days after the first symptoms appear. The CDC recommends quarantining if you’ve been exposed.

Young, whose children attend school in Waterloo, worries that an epidemic or exposure could send his children back to virtual learning. Her children tried virtual learning in the spring of 2020 and for short periods of time last school year, but were unsuccessful.

“I’m not thrilled that the kids have to come back because it’s such a heavy blow to the routines,” Young said.

Individual school districts and local public health departments will decide whether to conduct their own case investigations. Johnson County Public Health has confirmed to KWWL that it will be tracking cases for the Iowa City Community School District.

The IDPH will not make vaccinations mandatory, but advises anyone who is eligible to get vaccinated.

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