Because of the need to spread kids out on school buses to help protect against the spread of the new coronavirus, students who live closer to Carroll schools might need to find alternate transportation this year.
That decision was among those discussed by school leaders during the Carroll Community School Board meeting Monday; a final plan for how the beginning of the school year will look amidst the coronavirus pandemic will be presented at a board meeting scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Aug. 5 in the Carroll High School media center.
The latest guidance from Gov. Kim Reynolds states that schools need to offer in-person classes at least half the time, and that there needs to be an online option available for parents who prefer their children to work remotely.
The state currently isn’t mandating that students and teachers wear masks in schools but is leaving it up to individual districts to decide, although guidelines from the state are changing regularly. Carroll leaders didn’t make a determination about mask usage at Monday’s meeting, but several parents did offer opinions, asking the district to give them the choice to decide whether their children wear masks, and whether they attend school.
Roxanne Aden, a mother and a teacher’s assistant at Adams Elementary School, said she’s researched mask usage and has not found evidence of their effectiveness when they’re not worn properly, and added that she’s concerned about air quality in classrooms and students’ breathing when they wear masks all day.
She noted that her daughter has played sports all summer and has been in a variety of crowds that didn’t practice social distancing, and she and her family members, including grandparents, have not gotten sick.
“I’m saying from my personal point of view, to have my daughter go to school in a mask right now isn’t going to happen,” Aden said. “I will homeschool her.”
Pat Tigges said he also hopes the schools will allow parents to choose whether their kids wear masks, because doctors have recommended that his son, who has special needs, not wear one.
Another parent said she believes it’s vital for her kids to return to school to get the social integration and interaction with their peers and teachers that they can’t get at home.
Tyler Nelson, who lives in rural Carroll, said remote learning was next to impossible for his two kids because of the lack of reliable Internet access at home. He added that wherever the mask decision falls, he wants to make sure his kids are available to attend school in person.
“It was a big problem,” he said, referring to accessing the schools’ online learning in the spring after school buildings closed. “I don’t think that can be stated enough. My children would have to come into town to a friend’s house or to my place of employment to use Internet. It’d be very hard for us to deal with.”
The district has a variety of other decisions to make by its next meeting about how classes will be held, how students will be spread out, especially during larger group gatherings like lunch, and how cleaning the schools will work.
One big question mark involves busing students to and from school. The school doesn’t want three students per seat like normal, but having fewer students on each bus involves changing routes. Some recommendations encourage having one student in every other seat, but that would allow only about 13 students to fit on a bus at a time, said Jeff Cullen, transportation director at Carroll Community School District.
Instead, the school is looking at having just two students per seat, allowing space between them, and having siblings sit together.
Carroll Schools Superintendent Casey Berlau said that if the district doesn’t mandate all-day mask usage, it might instead pinpoint certain times or activities during which masks must be worn. Bus rides might be one of those, he said.
The district would continue to provide transportation from daycares and for preschool students. Cullen said he is looking at options for having drop-off and pick-up points throughout the bus routes where more students would be picked up and dropped off, rather than stopping at every house.
Buses would be cleaned and sanitized between routes. The district is looking to hire several new bus drivers.
The largest potential change would be utilizing a state law that says that school districts aren’t required to provide transportation for kids in kindergarten through eighth grade who live within two miles of the school, other than kids with special needs. That distance extends to three miles for students in high school.
“Carroll has done this as a courtesy for years; a lot of towns aren’t doing it,” Cullen said. “Is that what I want to do? No, none of us want to do that, but we may be forced to do something like that this year just to get through this mess.”
Whatever the district decides also would apply to transporting students at Kuemper Catholic School System, as the Carroll Community School District provides transportation for both schools.
To help make the process easier, the district will ask parents to drive their kids to and from school if at all possible. Carroll School Board President Karen Friedlein suggested coordinating with some of the city’s larger employers to accommodate for parents transporting their kids in the morning and afternoon.
“We could try to work as a partnership,” she said. “We all want to get our kids back to school, and they need their employees at work. Maybe they can be flexible with shifts and let those employees get their kids to school or pick them up.”
Some of the other changes school leaders discussed included hiring an additional school nurse for the next school year, which the board approved, and having an isolation room in each school building for students or teachers with symptoms to stay until they can get home. The schools also are looking at temporarily having multiple entrances to the school buildings to decrease walking traffic, and creating new cleaning routines for classes that have different groups of students coming and going each day.
Lunch will be another challenge to tackle to keep students separated enough to maintain social distancing, Berlau said. Some schools have enough room to add tables in the lunchrooms and keep students spread out, while others might have some students eating in classrooms, which then could involve additional cleaning in classrooms if spills happen.
The school will work to develop processes when a student or teacher exhibits symptoms or tests positive for coronavirus, Berlau said, working with Carroll County Public Health to use contact tracing, the process of working backward in time to determine who the person recently had contact with.
“Hopefully schools in the county will have things in place when we do the contact tracing (after a student or teacher tests positive), that maybe it’s a classroom that’s not in school for a period of time, or a grade level,” he said. “Maybe it gets to a building, but hopefully it’s not a district-wide thing.”