OTTUMWA — The Ottumwa School Board looked at several programs and events during its meeing Monday, planning for how they might look as the district moves through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prom was one of the topics. The district had reserved dates in June and July in the hopes guidelines would be lifted in time for the event to be held.

“You can’t do social distancing at a prom dance,” said Superintendent Nicole Kooiker. “Right now, it’s impossible to have a prom.”

She said the plan had been taken to the public health department and the Iowa Department of Education, and their recommendations were to not hold it, but Kooker felt is was important for the board to make some sort of decision to send out to students and families.

Board member Christina Schark asked why it was necessary to seek recommendations from such departments past the May 27 expiration date of the governor’s emergency declaration.

Kooiker said it boiled to down to safety precautions during the pandemic and following guidelines from IDOE, which advised bringing plans to the local public health department. “It doesn’t mean we have to follow them,” she said. “Based on what they know, they’re recommending [not having it] for safety reasons. I think we’ve got to be careful cause they’re saying that most likely in June is not going to be feasible.”

Board member Nancy Manson said the “absolute earliest” prom would be July, “and that’s shaky at best.”

She also expressed concern about students spending extra money on a prom that could very well be canceled as well as student conduct. Since prom is being held after graduation, she was concerned the district wouldn’t be able to withhold walking at graduation if they misbehave.

Schark said that she wouldn’t want to withhold prom entirely for the possible misconduct of a few.

“I don’t see a problem setting a date as as we get closer reassessing,” said board member Morgan Brown.

Board President David Weilbrenner agreed. “I don’t think we should cancel prom at this point in time,” he said. “I’m a realist. It’s a long shot, probably.”

After discussion, the district has set July 18 as a tentative prom date. “We are hopeful we can have prom on that date. If not, we will have to cancel the event for the year,” reads a release from the district.

The board also moved forward with plans to reopen PTYC next week. Staff will return Monday, May 18, with students returning Wednesday, May 20. To start, only 50 students will be allowed “to see how well social distancing and safety measures in place and possibly add capacity if it works out,” said Kooiker.

An announcement on the district’s website says that working parents interested in utilizing the program should contact Director Becky Eaton at 641-683-6337 and leave a message or email at prior to noon Monday. Full and half-day options are available. If there are more than 50 students who sign up, families will be placed into a lottery with an electronic drawing held later that day and parents will be notified prior to 5 p.m. Monday. Students who have not been enrolled may register by completing the online form at

Groups will be limited to 10 or less on one area at a time, and additional provisions are included in the plan. Parents not be allowed past the entryway at both pickup and drop-off, and temperatures of staff and students will be taken before they are allowed in the building.

The board voted 6-1 to move ahead with the reopening plan with Manson dissenting.

In addition, the board voted to approve revised dates for the Evans Travel Program. The Chicago trip is now set for July 18-19; St. Louis July 22-23; East Coast July 26 to Aug. 3; and Discovery Aug. 6-16.

Kooiker said parents would be able to get a refund if the dates don’t work for parents, but they’re still trying get the trips in. She also said the trips could always be canceled at a later date if they didn’t feel safe sending kids to those cities.

The board voted 5-2 to approve the new dates with Manson and Jeff Bittner dissenting.

Features Editor Tracy Goldizen can be reached via email at or followed on Twitter @CourierTracy.


Tracy Goldizen is the Courier's features and magazine editor, leading production of the award-winning "Ottumwa Life" and the Courier's other magazine offerings. She began work with the Courier on the copy desk.

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