Despite high COVID rates in county, no all-virtual learning plans for MFL MarMac

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By Audrey Posten, Times-Register

Despite high COVID-19 positivity rates in Clayton County, MFL MarMac currently has no plans to move to all-virtual learning.

“The county rates are a lot higher than our school rates. Our actual number of students who are sick is still very manageable. The quarantine kids don’t count—it’s just kids who are actually sick,” said superintendent Dale Crozier at the district’s Nov. 9 school board meeting. “If the county rate of people testing positive is above 15 percent, which it is, and then if the actual absence rate is above 10 percent of people who are actually sick, then we’d have to look at a temporary closure. We’re not there yet.”

According to data shared on the MFL MarMac website, the district had seven active cases of COVID-19 and approximately 50 students and staff quarantined as of Nov. 16. 

To reach the 10 percent mark, Crozier said roughly 80 students would have to be sick.

“A lot of kids are quarantined, waiting to get tests results because they’ve been exposed, but a lot of those tests come back negative,” he noted.

School board president Gina Roys said Crozier, the district’s principals and instructional coaches have been evaluating different options should the district need to move to an all-virtual format in the future. MFL MarMac currently follows a hybrid model, with in-person learning Monday through Tuesday and Thursday through Friday, then virtual learning at home on Wednesdays. Outside that, the district also plans to have virtual learning days in case inclement weather cancels in-person learning this winter.

On snow days, Crozier said teachers would not be expected to come to school to teach virtually. But that would likely not be the case under virtual learning due to COVID-19.

“If we go virtual then, we’ll start out saying teachers need to come to school to work,” he told the board. “Then we’ll evaluate the situation as we go. We can always tell them they can work from home.”

At last week’s meeting, Crozier floated the idea of virtual learning on Monday and Tuesday, Nov. 23 and Nov. 24, the two days leading up to Thanksgiving break. It would give staff and students an opportunity to practice the virtual format and close the buildings for nine days. 

Instead, the district has opted to simply close school those days and have a two-hour early dismissal on Friday, Nov. 20. 

“These two days will not be virtual, and we will make them up at the end of the year as we would for snow days in a normal year (prior to 2020),” Crozier said in a statement on the MFL MarMac Facebook page. “Hopefully, this closure will mitigate the spread of the virus...and give us some breathing room, so we can continue to serve our students as best as we can. We would encourage everyone to follow the guidelines provided by the Iowa Department of Public Health so that we can continue to move forward.”

Last week, Crozier also brought up extra-curricular activities at MFL MarMac. At the time, he said MFL MarMac plans to keep all in-school events, including sports, dance and fine arts. 

Even before Gov. Kim Reynolds’ proclamation on Nov. 16 that requires masks be worn when people are in indoor public spaces and unable to social distance for 15 minutes or longer, Crozier said the Upper Iowa Conference (UIC) superintendents planned to implement a mask mandate for students and a strong recommendation for adults at all UIC events.

Schools also have the right to limit attendance at events if they choose. 

“We’re recommending we eliminate attendance at the Bulldog wrestling invite” held in January, Crozier said. “We have 12 schools coming. If you’ve ever been to a big wrestling tournament, it’s like a can of sardines. But as of today, that’s it so far.”

Board member Jonathon Moser also asked about the status of theater productions.

“Where are we at with getting shows for this year? Are we pursuing that at all, or is that just gone away?” he wondered. “Sporting events are still wide open and that’s fine with everyone, but they can’t be in a theater?”

“We haven’t eliminated it yet,” Crozier responded. “We’re waiting. If the virus recedes, we’ll have a spring production.”

Other highlights from the Nov. 9 meeting:

• The district recognized eight employees who recently retired: Judith Oelke (34 years), Lynn Jones (38 years), Twila Converse (17 years), Jasen Thompson (20 years), Eric Dettbarn (32 years), Jeanne Krueger (10 years), Dawn Dull (37 years) and Harry Larson (25 years).

• The board accepted the resignation of Pat Wille as assistant softball coach, approved a paraprofessional contract with Peggy Schultz and approved to split the assistant girls basketball contract with Jess Schubert, Jeremy Schellhorn and Brian Bugenhagen.

• Elementary principal Kathy Koether shared that the elementary received a $16,000 donation from the Merle Gruber Trust. $10,000 will be used for technology and the remainder for the food service program.

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