• warning: Parameter 2 to ed_classified_link_alter() expected to be a reference, value given in /home/soloneconomist/www/www/includes/common.inc on line 2968.
  • warning: Parameter 2 to ed_classified_link_alter() expected to be a reference, value given in /home/soloneconomist/www/www/includes/common.inc on line 2968.

Keep kids in school as long as possible

District watching for uptick after holidays

SOLON– The Solon Community School District (SCSD) is keeping its eyes on the numbers.
Rising COVID-19 infection and quarantine numbers among students and staff came close to closing two buildings in recent weeks, and the district is already looking at possible impacts from the upcoming holiday season.
The school system remains poised to move classrooms, grade levels or even an entire building to online learning while instructing as many students as possible in-person, according to Superintendent Davis Eidahl.
Eidahl explained how the district evaluates its COVID data and makes decisions during a marathon Nov. 19 meeting of the board of education.
During the three-hour session, board members heard from a string of parents and students supporting the decision to maintain in-person learning, as well as several who raised concerns about the spiking local numbers.
Eidahl reported on the recent increase in cases and the school’s response, which could include an expanded winter break, if necessary.
Utilizing guidelines from Johnson County Public Health Department and the Iowa Department of Public Health, he said, the district reviews absenteeism and quarantine numbers, staff availability and feedback, and most recently, overall percentages of students not present in a building on a daily basis to assess operations under COVID.
Any of the data points can wave a flag for district administration, he said.
“We were close. At SIS (Solon Intermediate School), we lost four out of the five teachers, they had to quarantine,” he said. “We were able to cover those four teachers. It was difficult. Now if we had to go another week, we probably wouldn’t have been able to cover, but we got through that.”
As of the date of the meeting, he continued, 20 percent of high school students were not in attendance, either absent or quarantined.
“That’s a big red flag,” he noted.
The high school leadership team reviewed the numbers with Principal Zach Wigle to consider a possible move to virtual, Eidahl said, but the overwhelming response from teachers was to keep going.
While the school system expects to quarantine seven to 10 more students, he said, approximately 35-40 are expected to return just before Thanksgiving break, with another 35 expected back Monday, Nov. 30.
Building leadership teams helped develop a set of recently-implemented emergency strategies, Eidhal noted.
The district contacted seven of its most consistent substitute teachers and offered to schedule them every day through Dec. 22, and is seeking to do the same thing with substitute associates.
“If there’s one thing that’s worn teachers out, it would be covering for each other,” he said. “If you’ve got a vacancy, now they have to cover for each other.”
If there are no vacancies, substitute teachers will rotate through classrooms in a given building to provide an extra break for teachers, he added. Substitute associates can be used to help cover recess and lunches, he observed. A substitute nurse has also been scheduled every day through Dec. 22.
The district suspended school improvement time and redirected all teacher leadership positions to substitute teaching, Eidhal added.
“We don’t want teachers to cover for other teachers,” he explained. “We want to be able to make sure that the time they have in the day, they can keep that time to catch their breath.”
From Nov. 5 to Nov. 18, he said, 40 positive cases were reported among the district’s 1,500 students, about two percent. Twenty-three were at the high school.
During the same time period, he continued, the percent of students quarantined ranged between 4-12 percent, while the total not attending was between 6-15 percent.
At least 75 percent of positive cases were contracted outside of the school, he estimated, although more recently, positive cases stemmed from the high school musical.
Twenty-five staff members have quarantined, Eidhal reported, with 18 as a result of outside contact. Of about 225 staff, 13 tested positive.
At the high school, Principal Wigle noted, the most recent positive cases were in students already quarantining because of contact tracing.
Students have the option to move to virtual learning, Eidahl said.
As numbers statewide continued to surge early in November, he said, parents were notified to contact building principals if they were uncomfortable with keeping kids in school.
District-wide, 37 students shifted online, he said, but the school is prepared to make computers available to many more.
Forty-one high school students deciding to take the entire year online were provided a district computer, he stated, and 46 students grabbed a computer on their way out the door to quarantine.
Board member Jami Wolf questioned whether district staff was mentally prepared for a surge after the holiday.
“We know at Thanksgiving people are going to get together,” she said.
Board President Tim Brown also asked for an assessment of staff morale.
“They’re of course tired, they’re exhausted,” Eidahl responded. “But gosh, every one of them has come back and said, ‘But I know this is where kids need to be and things are going well,’ and things like that.”
The district held conversations with the Solon Education Association (SEA) leadership and the SEA is currently conducting a survey on the status of staff. The results will be shared with the district, he said.
Board members expressed their desire to support staff with Brown questioning if teachers need a break.
Eidahl said the district was seriously considering a two-day extension to the upcoming winter hiatus.
In basketball terms, he said, the district has to determine whether to call a 30-second timeout or a full 60.
The Monday and Tuesday before Thanksgiving could be sacrificed, but the general feeling seems to be staff and students are continuing to manage the load, he said.
Returning from Thanksgiving Dec. 30, he continued, there will be three full weeks of school with an additional Monday and Tuesday heading into winter break.
If there’s a time to look at a longer break for teachers, it might be then, he said.
“That would provide 16 full days over the winter break,” he added. “And when I was talking to teachers about those options, they really liked the idea of that possibility, if we can get to that point, if data allows us to get to the point of taking that time to take a long, extended break before coming back.”