A new school year is set to start just as COVID-19 cases are once again on the rise, sending school leaders and parents scrambling to add familiar safety precautions so many hoped would be unnecessary this fall.
Hamstrung by the state that prohibits schools from imposing masks rules, educators have few options to mitigate the risks of the new highly contagious delta variant that has gripped most of the nation all over again.
While severe COVID cases among children are still rare, children remain a large bloc unvaccinated and highly susceptible to the new delta strain, national experts worry.
To provide parents with some comfort, many schools are encouraging students to wear masks, increasing sanitation efforts, and providing new online learning options.
Here’s a sample of what school districts in the Des Moines area and across central Iowa are doing to prepare for the new school year.
Des Moines Public Schools
Des Moines Public Schools students are scheduled to return Aug. 25 to the classroom. COVID-19 mitigation efforts going into the new school year include improved airflow, and encouraging students and staff to mask and get vaccinated if eligible.
Middle and high school students are able to attend school online through the district’s Virtual Campus. The Des Moines School Board recently added Edgenuity, an online curriculum, for families who want their elementary students to attend school virtually. Edgenuity teachers will be available to work with students.
West Des Moines Public Schools
Students in the West Des Moines Community School District will return Aug. 25.
The district has contracted with online learning provider Edgenuity for the first semester to provide an online option for students in kindergarten through sixth grade.
The district will provide its own online programming for preschool students.
Free COVID-19 testing kits will be available in each building based on availability, according to the district’s plan. In school and office spaces, plexiglass barriers will separate administrators from the public.
The district will also continue to make face shields available to students and staff by request. The district is encouraging everyone to wear face masks indoors. Masks will be available in each building.
Urbandale Community School District
Urbandale will welcome students back to classrooms Aug. 24. For students who are not yet eligible for the vaccine, the district will offer an online curriculum through Edgenuity at no additional fee.
Students who take advantage of the Edgenuity program will be issued a Chromebook. Families must sign up for the online option by Aug. 15.
Masks will not be required for students, staff and visitors in school buildings, but students are still required to wear masks on buses.
Due to increased transmission levels of COVID-19 in Polk County, the district will not allow visitors for preschool through eighth grades. Visitors are allowed at Urbandale High School and Metro West Learning Academy.
Additional COVID-19 mitigation strategies include establishing a “sick bay” in schools to separate students showing symptoms of any illness and drinking fountains will not be available to use.
Waukee Community School District
Waukee Community School District students will return to school Aug. 24. Updated COVID-19 mitigation efforts include physical distancing when possible and increased airflow. Assemblies involving the whole school and kindergarten through fifth-grade music concerts will not be held at this time.
The district is strongly encouraging students and staff to wear masks and get vaccinated if eligible. Visitors are asked not to visit during the school day unless picking up or dropping off their child or attending a meeting.
Edgenuity curriculum will be available for families with students in kindergarten through sixth grade who have family members with significant health conditions. There will be no online option for high school students.
Indianola Community School District
Indianola’s year-round school building, Irving Elementary, started back July 15. As of Aug. 10, no COVID-19 cases have been identified. The rest of the students return to the classrooms Aug. 23. There is not a remote learning option offered unless a student is enrolled in the Indianola High School Online Learning Program.
The district’s plan includes reminders that mask-wearing is optional and that high-touch surfaces will be cleaned frequently. Otherwise, the Indianola Community School District states in the plan that the Iowa Department of Public Health and Iowa Department of Public Education have directed that COVID-19 be addressed as other childhood illnesses are. Some building-specific precautions will be taken like specific zones on the playground for recess to separate classes and direction walking in the halls.
Norwalk Community School District
Norwalk voted on the back-to-school plan for the new school year Aug 9. That plan is not available on the district’s website as of Tuesday afternoon. However, the draft plan on the school board agenda for Aug. 9 says that the district will offer in-person learning this year. Mask wearing is optional.
The first day of school is Aug. 24.
Carlisle Community School District
The Carlisle schools plan brings all students in grades pre-school through 12th grade back on campus for on-site instruction. No remote learning option will be offered for the school year. The district will continue enhanced cleaning and sanitization protocols throughout the school day in each building to help prevent the spread of any illness.
Pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students return to the classrooms Aug. 30. All other students return Aug. 23.
Staff will have daily self-reporting. Families will complete a district health screening checklist process for their children daily. Sending a child to school is a statement by a parent/guardian that the student is symptom-free. School health staff will screen students and staff that report symptoms during the school day.
Iowa City Community School District
Returning to the classroom on Aug. 23, Iowa City students can expect COVID-19 mitigation protocols like handwashing and social distancing when possible. When transmission rates in Johnson County are categorized as “substantial” or above by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the district will take added steps like canceling field trips, prohibiting visitors to school buildings and reducing capacity in some indoor spaces to 50%.
Students had the option of enrolling in the district’s online learning program this fall, ICCSD Online. The program is open to students from across the state.
Ames Community School District
Ames students will return to school between Aug. 25 and Sept. 7, with most students back on Aug. 25 — grades 1 through 6, 9 and all middle and high school students who are new to the district.
The district’s COVID safety precautions include a required 10 days of isolation for COVID-positive students, masks being required on school buses, ventilation that’s been maximized within the capacity of HVAC systems and distancing to the greatest extent possible. Whether parents or volunteers will be allowed into buildings will depend on local case and positivity rates.
Middle and high school students will have a remote learning option through Edgenuity. The district will also have a remote learning option for elementary students who have or live in a household with someone who has a severe health condition.
Burlington Community School District
Classes start Aug. 23.
The district is planning on returning 100% in-person learning, but are providing online options for K-12 students within the district, as well as other students in several nearby districts, with its V.I.B.E. program.
The district has contingency plans on standby in the event that they need to revert back to remote or hybrid learning models used since the beginning of the pandemic.