Return to Learn Update

As we continue to work to develop plans for the 20-21 school year, we want to provide you with an update and some important details. Dozens of people have and continue to work hard planning for school this fall and we are expected to address a return to our buildings (brick and mortar), one or more hybrid models, and a continuous (online) learning model.
Our expectation is that we will return to school on August 24, 2020, with the health and safety of our students and staff our number one priority. It is clear from legislation passed near the end of the Session, and guidance from the Governor and Iowa Department of Education, the first preference, with safety protocols in place, is to have in-person learning, and we concur. We are working on significant plans addressing social distancing to the extent possible, cleaning protocols, hand-washing, and more. In consultation with Dallas County Public Health, and other local experts, we are working through the mask conversation and plan to have that decision made by mid-July.

Hybrid Models

Beyond in-person plans, you have likely heard discussions related to one or more hybrid models. Many districts, including ours, have been investigating models including A/B (alternating) days or alternating weeks. We considered these alternating hybrid models in order to comply with possible directives for significantly reduced numbers of students in classrooms. With the current information available to us, we believe our planning will allow for typical numbers of students in classrooms. As such, we have pivoted away from those conversations at this time. We believe our hybrid model will be in-person learning for those who choose to attend and continuous (online) learning for those who are not comfortable attending.

Devices for Students

In terms of our continuous (online) learning model, on Monday night the Board approved the purchase of approximately 12,000 devices that are to be placed in the hands of our students. By the first day of school, we will have an iPad available for every student in grades K-7 and a MacBook for every student in grades 8-12. Those will be available for use in schools and for the older grades, they will go to and from school with the students. This is an exciting innovation for our classrooms and it allows us to provide a device for every student should the need arise to implement our fully continuous learning model at any point in the school year.

July 1 Deadline

There is an understanding by July 1 we are to have the required continuous (online) learning plan available to the Iowa Department of Education (IDOE). The other two plans are considered optional, however, we are working diligently on those as well. What we are required to provide on July 1 is assurances of planning and implementation of this planning. Guided by feedback from the IDOE acknowledging the planning documents will continue to evolve and improve, we are taking a very deliberate approach to the planning work.

District Leadership Team

Specifically, it is important to know we have a 26 person team composed of staff and community members that is our District Leadership Team. They are providing feedback on and leadership for this work. We also have more than 30 content action teams including several teachers who are working through the summer to address health and safety, solutions for identifying and addressing learning gaps, and delivering the best support for a return to learning.
Areas of focus of the Return to Learn Teams include:

  1. Leadership
  2. Infrastructure
  3. Health & Safety
  4. Iowa Academic Standards
  5. Social-Emotional-Behavioral Health (SEBH)
  6. Equity
  7. Data Considerations

Survey Information

Students, families, and staff recently filled out surveys to share their views on a variety of measures related to what school could look like in the fall.  The results are a reminder that our entire school community cares deeply about meeting the needs of our students, but we don’t always agree about how best to meet those needs.  Some questions (such as wearing masks) had mixed responses, but there was broad support for other measures like increased social distancing and hand-washing in buildings. As it relates to masks specifically, of the 7,000 responses:

  • 45% of responses indicated they would be more comfortable sending their student to school if masks were recommended (but not required), while 18% indicated this policy would make them less comfortable.
  • 33% of responses indicated they would be more comfortable sending their student to school if masks were required, while 26% indicated this policy would make them less comfortable.

Next Steps

Stakeholders also shared their experiences with online learning from earlier this year, which will drive decisions about technology use and professional development.  As part of that follow-up, we are in the process of purchasing and working to provide staff support for the implementation of a learning management system. We also learned about a variety of needs (social-emotional-behavioral health, lack of access to technology devices and/or internet, difficulties accessing some types of online resources, etc.) which we are now working to meet.
There will be an additional survey in the coming weeks to ask specific questions regarding your student’s plan to return to Waukee Schools. Our intent with that survey is to have more definitive information to help guide your decision about a return to school, as this information will be crucial for making staffing decisions for the fall.
Here some examples of additional topics that we are still working on:

  • Transportation
  • How will Specials look, i.e. – choir, band, PE
  • Lunch areas
  • Recess

Going forward, you will hear from me weekly as new information is available to us. To sum everything up, we are working hard to return to school in the fall with appropriate safety and health concerns addressed. As I stated before, our number one priority is the health and safety of our students and staff. This will require a strong partnership between our district and families.
Thank you for reading through this message and for your support in the difficult decisions we have moving forward.

Dr. Brad Buck, Superintendent