Cardinal School District, Eldon, IA

ELDON — For the Cardinal Community School District, the “return to learn” plan is going to be an either-or situation. 

Last week the school board voted unanimously to proceed on reopening the school 100 percent face-to-face, with a virtual option available to families who won’t send their children back to school when it begins Aug. 26.

Superintendent Joel Pedersen submitted three plans to the board, and the hybrid option of a mixture of in-person and virtual learning seems to be off the table for now. Still, there is plenty of work to be done before classes start in less than a month, but he suggested the board could meet weekly until school starts.

“We’re still in the communication phase with our families, and we want to write documents in a way that a parent would write and read them,” Pedersen said Wednesday. “These are the toughest times in our school, and when you go through a crisis, I think people forget what makes a school special.”

Pedersen said about 5 percent of families want the virtual option, and the district will honor that and make sure they receive that.

“But for everyone else, we are going to be on-site when school starts,” he said.

Pedersen believed one of the potential hangups with the board would be the issue of facial covering for students and staff. He said there was a “really good and healthy discussion,” but that the board voted to “highly encourage” masks rather than make them a requirement.

“I recommended that we require them, but they told me where they were at right now, and I think they were concerned about enforcement,” he said. “I don’t think they want staff to spend all day making sure masks are worn properly. However, I think they’re open to change if need be, so we will see how that works out.”

The school district released an FAQ of its ‘return to learn’ plan on its website, outlining what a typical school day will look like for students, ranging from entering the building at different entrances depending on grade level, to eating breakfast and lunch in classrooms.

There is also a virtual-option document and sign-up for the option on the website. For parents who choose the virtual option, they must wait until the end of the quarter if they deem the environment safe enough to send their children back to school.

However, at this point, the school is unable to purchase more buses to create social distancing and encourages parents to drop off their children. In classrooms, the school has had to eliminate extra furniture and buy more tables so fewer students are at the same table.

One of the biggest challenges the school district will likely have to tackle is in the event of a positive case of COVID-19, and whether it occurs in one student or several.

“If we have to close down the school two weeks in, then it’s like, ‘Why did we even start?” Pedersen said. “But the hope is that we can learn to identify that person, find out who has been around them and get them tested. It’s really going to be a when, and not if, and that’s why we have to have flexibility and work with public health.”

Pedersen said that parents of students have been understanding of the school’s predicament, but that everyone involved needs to regain a sense of consistency.

“They realize the impossible situation we’re in, but they’re also ready to get their kids back to school and get back to a routine,” he said. “We take a big responsibility to make sure their kids are physically and mentally safe, and that we all need each other. If we can do that, everything will take care of itself.”

Chad Drury can be reached at cdrury@ottumwacourier.com, and on Twitter @ChadDrury

Chad Drury can be reached at cdrury@ottumwacourier.com, and on Twitter @ChadDrury

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