The Glenwood Community School District, the East Mills Community School District and the Fremont-Mills Community School District will all be closed for the next four weeks due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
The districts have suspended all classes as well as all scheduled club meetings and events, including spring sports, practices and competitions, after Gov. Kim Reynolds made the recommendation after consulting with the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH).
“Based on new information today from the Iowa Department of Public Health, now is the time to move to the next level of response,” Gov. Reynolds stated in a Sunday evening press release. “I am now recommending that all Iowa schools close for a period of four weeks to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19.”
Glenwood and East Mills both announced they will be closed until April 13. Fremont-Mills has not announced a re-opening date.
Reynolds said her decision was based on “discovery of the existence of substantial community spread of COVID-19 in the state.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines “community spread” as an individual with a confirmed case who reportedly did not have relevant travel history or exposure to another known patient with COVID-19.
According to the IDPH, Iowa currently has 22 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with those numbers expected to rise. Confirmed cases have been reported in Pottawattamie, Polk, Johnson, Carroll, Dallas, Harrison and Allamakee counties. Mills County currently has no confirmed cases.
As of Monday night, COVID-19 is responsible for 86 deaths in the U.S., according to the CDC. More than 3,000 Americans have been diagnosed with the virus.
As late as 6 p.m. Sunday, Glenwood, like many area districts, seemed determined to keep schools in session while developing a contingency plan for closure possibilities. GCSD sent out an email Sunday evening around 6 p.m. telling parents school would remain in session while offering potential guidelines for when or if a closure would be necessary.
All that changed later on Sunday night when Reynolds issued her statewide recommendation. School districts all over the state have announced they will close their doors, with most reporting a projected re-opening date of April 13.
Many districts, however, did continue to hold classes Monday to give parents, students and staff a final day to prepare for the hiatus. Teachers used the day to provide information and learning materials to students so they have the opportunity to continue engaging in learning during the closure.
Glenwood, East Mills and Fremont-Mills were all in session Monday operating on normal schedules.
In a Monday afternoon press conference, Reynolds waived 20 days of the state’s in-class education requirement for public schools, meaning school district will not have to make up the missed days on their schedule. But with that, the state is not allowing “e-learning” teaching to count for student grading during the closure.
Embray said Glenwood hoped to use its Chromebook program and an aggressive on-line teaching curriculum during this time to keep students up to speed but there were just too many questions about access to technology and how to meet the instructional needs of special education students.
“They won’t allow it to count towards the school year so because of that we won’t go out and do e-learning,” Embray said. “It won’t count so we could be setting ourselves up for lawsuits from parents that we didn’t meet their child’s needs. If we’re not going to have the state backing us during this crisis then we’re not going to be exposed so we cancelled the e-learning option.”
All students will be offered learning opportunities during this time and will be allowed to take home their Chromebook laptops – but it will not be mandated, Embray said.
The suspension of school and all school-related activities is just one of many closures due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The Iowa legislative session has been suspended for 30 days and most public events of more than 50 people are being cancelled or postponed, as recommend by the IDPH.
The Glenwood Booster Club Dinner and Auction schedule for Saturday has been postponed until further notice.
Embray said the district continues to work on a plan for providing meals for all students throughout the closure. Meal distribution sites are planned for West Elementary and Glenwood Middle School. Embray hopes to have the pickup or drive up meal plan in place by Thursday.
Kids Place will remain open during the closure. The district’s pre-school program and daycare will work closely with Mills County Public Health to maintain disinfecting protocols and distancing strategies while open.
The Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union, the Iowa High School Athletic Association, the Iowa High School Music Association, and the Iowa High School Speech Association issued a joint press release Monday suspending all spring school related activities.
Sports practices, competition, and sanctioned activities and in-person contact between coaches, administrators and student-athletes are prohibited for the duration of the closure.
The resumption of activities and sports schedules and their effects on season lengths, as well as postseason events, will be announced at a later date.
Schools’ indoor facilities will be off limits during the closure, but the Glenwood is making its Glenwood Community Activities Complex available to ninth through 12th grade students in spring activities from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily for individual workouts. The general public may also use the facility before 8 a.m. and after 5 p.m. daily.
With protocols and plans changing by the minute and no clear answers guiding any school district as they head into uncharted territory, Embray admits it’s been a stressful time for the district as a whole. But the staff in Glenwood, he said, has risen to the challenge. Just like they did when flooding devastated areas of the community one year ago.
“This wouldn’t be possible without a professional staff and I have to give a shout out to our staff” he said. “The Glenwood Community School District staff has been ready for this call to duty, so to speak, from the beginning. They’re all ready to help and be on the front line. They want to help and it’s phenomenal to see that sort of support.”