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OTTUMWA — The Ottumwa Community School District announced Wednesday evening that classes will resume April 13. That is not a new date, nor is it one the district came up with on its own.

“On March 15, Governor Kim Reynolds recommended that all Iowa schools close for four weeks to reduce the community spread of the coronavirus. Today [Thursday] during her daily press conference, she again indicated that at this time schools are closed until April 13,” said Superintendent Nicole Kooiker in an email.

“We’re operating under guidelines from the state department of education and the governor’s office,” said Kim Hellige, director of community programs for the district, noting that Sunday, April 12, marks 30 days from the original proclamation. “We’re taking our lead from the governor. We’re not going to go back if the recommendation is to not go back.”

Kooiker noted the governor, the Iowa Department of Public Health and other state organizations are making decisions based on “the most current information and data available.”

“The date could change in the future based on the data our state agencies are monitoring every day,” said Kooiker.

Announcements regarding prom and graduation followed a similar tone.

Wednesday’s statement said the district’s prom is still scheduled for May 2 if school reopens April 13. “If we receive information that schools are closed beyond April 13, we will reassess that decision,” the statement reads. “If we are allowed to come back to school and gather in large groups, OHS will hold a graduation ceremony as currently scheduled.”

In the meantime, the district is encouraging students to keep their minds sharp over the unexpected break by utilizing resources offered by the school.

“There is not a requirement that parents must become their child’s teacher during this school closure,” said Kooiker. “For parents seeking guidance, we have provided easy access to our education resource portal, Clever, on our website. This provides a list of over 30 apps that parents and students can utilize.”

Lonna Anderson, director of elementary education for the district, pointed to Clever as well. “It’s simply a hosting place where kids can log onto and are then logged into anything in that portal. We put all our educational apps in that host portal.

“During the school day, our kids are very used to going into Clever and using the programs there. It gives the kids a sense of the normal learning that they’re used to doing in their classroom.”

Since the statewide school closures, Anderson said the district has continued to add apps to the portal to give students more options. She said science and math options have expanded, and apps for typing, music, art and exercise are all now available.

“We’ve tried to add to that to give the kids a variety of things to click on and do,” she said. “Most of these sites are on the student’s level and walks them through their instruction based on their answers. It adapts to the child’s learning needs.”

Anderson said students at the secondary level can access Kahn Academy to keep their skills sharp.

“Wer’re not supposed to provide new learning, but we can provide supplemental enrichment and practice, and that’s what we’ve tried to do with the apps.”

Hellige offered some simple advice: “The best thing you can do is just make sure your kids are reading every day. That’s the best thing that you can do,” she said. “It’s just like summer. We know what happens when kids aren’t in school for 50 days, 60 days in the summer and the re-learning that has to happen in the fall.”

But for right now, the district is most focused on keeping its students healthy.

“We know COVID-19 is creating hardships for our families, businesses and communities,” said Kooiker. “We want to encourage our families to stay home at this time and only go out if necessary. The sooner we can slow the number of positive cases in Iowa, the sooner our lives can return to normal. The most important advice I can give to parents and students is to remain safe and healthy during this time.”


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