GCSD To Offer Remote Learning To All Students

The Glenwood Community School District will be offering remote learning options to all students for the 2020-2021 school year amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

In a special virtual meeting Friday afternoon, the Board of Education voted unanimously to offer remote learning to students and families without a health issue but are reluctant to return to school buildings during the public health crisis.
The board had already announced previously a contract with Edmentum, a Minnesota-based online academy, to provide remote learning for district students with bonified health conditions. The Edmentum option will still be available to students with health conditions.

Glenwood Superintendent Devin Embray presented the new plan, called the “Synchronous Live Option” to the board. Instead of contracting for remote learning for those students without health conditions, the live option will be handled within the district and have students being as “in classroom” as much possible. Students will be working in real time via their Chromebook or tablet according to their daily schedule.

“The simplest way to put it is students will be following along from home,” Embray said.

Embray estimated this option would cover 80 percent of the standard school curriculum including “essential” classes but some more hands- on work or electives would not be offered.

Edmentum is one of a handful of online academies approved in the state to handle online learning. The district’s cost for their services would be as much as $2,700 per high school student but the rates do vary by curriculum and grade level.
Offering the Edmentum option to all students was just going to be too cost prohibitive, Embray said. The district is paying for its Edmentum contract out of its Instructional Support Levy (ISL) monies but Embray is skeptical that fund could withstand the additional expense of adding the cost of non-health related students.

The district came up with its alternative plan after being pressured by community members to open up a remote learning option to all students, regardless of medical status, and their families who have concerns about returning to buildings. Iowa has also seen a surge in recent weeks that landed it among 21 states on the White House Coronavirus Task Force’s “red” list due to the high rate of transmission, resulting in 100 new cases per 100,000 tests in the last week.

Glenwood’s Synchronous Live platform would be available to both students with documented health conditions and those without health conditions depending on their remote learning preference.

“I think it’s a good solution and gives us flexibility on both sides – those with bonified health issues and those who aren’t comfortable returning to the building yet,” said board president Curt Becker.

The district has identified 108 students with bonified health conditions who have either requested or plan to request remote learning. Another 75 students without a health condition and their families have expressed their own preference to work remotely. But, Embray added, that latter figure is likely to double or even triple as the positive test cases continue to rise and the district’s plan finalizes.

“They don’t have a medical reason not to return to school but they have a real fear of coming back right now,” he said. “The only way to do that prior to the synchronous option was opening up the Edmentum opportunity to them and looking at the numbers, we can’t afford that. Once you’ve opened it to everyone, you can’t shut it off.”

Iowa is one of five states nationally that has mandated in-person learning this fall and it is the only state on the list without a mask mandate of any kind.

Glenwood announced previously it will not require masks for students in buildings, but they will be “expected.” School district staff will be required to wear masks.

Embray hopes to have the details of the Synchronous Live plans finalized this week.

Glenwood’s Synchronous Live plan comes as Gov. Kim Reynolds continues to focus guidelines for the August return to schools.

Last week,  Reynolds followed up her proclamation that Iowa’s public schools must conduct at least 50 percent of their instruction in-person when classes resume with a press conference Thursday that outlined criteria for schools to transition to online learning.

Reynolds said Iowa schools must have a positive coronavirus test rate of at least 15 percent in their county and have at least 10 percent absenteeism among students before they can receive a state waiver to transition to fully online learning. Schools that receive the state’s approval under those criteria would then be able to operate fully online for up two weeks before seeking a second approval to continue.  

Schools in counties with more than a 20 percent positive test rate do not need to meet the 10 percent threshold for absenteeism.

“I don’t think we’ll get there,” Embray said of the governor’s new guidelines. “Just like I don’t think we’ll even get near 50 percent of our students choosing the online option. Not based on the data we have. Now if COVID completely blows up to even more than it is now then yeah, it’s possible. But if that’s the case we’re going to continuous online learning anyway because we’ll be shutdown in schools.”

Prior to presenting the new plan to the board, Embray met with the Glenwood Education Association (GEA) and while he stopped short of saying the union that represents Glenwood’s teachers gave the plan their blessing, he did say he got their input.

“They were supportive of the idea but they have reservations about expectations and setting parameters,” Embray said. “We don’t want to have to create a whole new online curriculum. That’s not fair to our teachers.”

The Opinion-Tribune

116 S Walnut St Glenwood, IA 51534-1665
PO Box 191 Glenwood, IA 51534-0191
Phone: 712-527-3191
Fax: 712-527-3193

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