Eighteen schools and at least 175 students and staff in Iowa stayed home from school this week due to COVID-19 infections.
As COVID-19 spikes across the state, in-person resumption of school for most Iowa districts began this week, resulting in over 48 infections and a vast number of exposed educators, students and athletes. Most school districts have promptly relayed information of positive cases to their communities, while a number of others have left families frustrated by growing virus rates and little communication from administrators.
Iowa on Thursday reported the largest single-day increase in COVID-19 cases since the pandemic took hold in March. In a 24-hour period the state counted 1,475 new positive cases and 18 additional deaths, bringing totals up to 59,368 positive cases, 45,362 recoveries and 1,079 deaths.
“I nagged our district to be transparent with the community about the cases at our schools. They finally made an announcement [Sunday], but I do believe there are more exposures and quarantines than what they announced,” said Diana Underwood Kroeger, the grandmother of a Keokuk School District student.
Underwood Kroeger said she felt “not good sitting in the elementary pickup line,” worried about her grandchild’s safety at school as the district failed to swiftly announce the positive cases, along with “the amount of parents out here at walk-up with no masks.”
Clear Creek Amana, Johnson County and Twin Cedars school districts have moved to 100% virtual learning this week, along with an Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont elementary school and a Norwalk elementary school.
Twenty two other school districts have students or teachers who tested positive for COVID-19 this week, triggering their quarantine and that of anyone deemed exposed to those individuals.
Indianola and Carlisle had large outbreaks among teachers, leaving their districts scrambling for substitutes to cover classrooms. Both districts said that if they were unable to find adequate coverage, teachers would step into an essential worker role. This means those teachers who were exposed to the virus would work in their classrooms so long as they are being screened and asymptomatic.
Here’s a roundup of the school districts impacted by COVID-19 closures or quarantines this week:
Completely Virtual Learning
Clear Creek Amana
In a message to students and staff on Thursday, the Clear Creek Amana Community School District canceled all in-person instruction and activities at the high school after a positive COVID-19 case was reported to school officials on late Wednesday night.
“Immediate action was taken to move the High School to virtual learning due to the extenuating circumstances surrounding the case,” the message said, noting potential contact tracing back to a gathering last weekend.
“We are aware there was a large gathering Saturday night, which had many CCA students in attendance and potentially increased their risk of exposure.”
Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont Community School District Superintendent Scott Williamson announced Tuesday that the Fremont Elementary building will be closed Wednesday through Friday with the possibility of the closure being extended after a staff member tested positive for the virus and other staff members have exhibited symptoms.
“I will determine an opening date after consulting with the Department of Education and the Department of Health at the local level,” he said.
Additionally, Williamson mentioned three parents of students have tested positive for COVID-19, resulting in eight students placed in quarantine for 14 days.
EBF’s school year began on Monday, with students attending class at the junior high and high school building.
The Iowa City Community School District on Thursday was granted permission from the state to switch to a 100% off-site learning model due to the rapid increase in Johnson County’s coronavirus cases.
The school district’s board of directors will discuss next steps during a special board meeting 9 a.m. Saturday.
“At this time, no decision has been made to make a change to the start of our school year,” officials wrote in a Thursday release. “The options will be reviewed and discussed during the special Board Meeting before an official decision is made.”
Norwalk Closes an Elementary school
In an email to families, Norwalk Community School District provided updates on Thursday that one staff member at Oviatt Elementary school tested positive for COVID-19. The school is closed on Friday to allow for deep cleaning and contact tracing, with more information provided soon, according to the Superintendent.
Twin Cedars has also been granted a virtual learning waiver from the Iowa Department of Education. Following an outbreak of COVID-19, particularly among staff members, the district was closed Monday and Tuesday, using Wednesday to prepare for virtual instruction.
Online classes began Thursday with on-site learning scheduled to resume Sept. 8. The district will not participate in any athletics during virtual learning.
Districts Students, Educators Quarantined
The entire varsity volleyball team is in quarantine due to coronavirus, according to the athletics director at ACGC.
In an announcement to the district, a member of the varsity volleyball team has been diagnosed with coronavirus, and now the entire varsity team has to quarantine for 14 days.
The varsity schedule is at least postponed or possibly canceled up to Sept. 8 because of the virus.
Two Adel-DeSoto-Minburn High School students have tested positive for COVID-19, which has triggered the quarantine of 12 other students.
According to the district, they were notified of the first positive test results Saturday, when one positive student participated in fall sports, and contract tracing determined that the individual spent more than 15 minutes within six feet of eight other students.
The second case was discovered Monday as another student-athlete tested positive. This resulted in four more students identified through contact tracing.
Seven COVID-19 cases were confirmed among students and one school staff member this week, said the Ankeny Community School District, leading to 27 students and 12 teachers now in quarantine due to close contact with those who tested positive.
The school district began classes Wednesday.
Two members of the Belmond-Klemme football team tested positive for COVID-19 on Saturday leading to the entire team being quarantined for two weeks.
These students will not return to school or the football field during this period, according to Superintendent Dan Frazier.
Bondurant-Farrar Principal Erik Garnass on Tuesday notified families of a high school student who tested positive for COVID-19.
“We are writing to reassure you that Bondurant-Farrar continues to take every step possible to ensure the health and safety of our students and staff,” he said. “Per the established protocol, we have temporarily closed off the area of the building that the individual used in the past several days so that we can thoroughly clean and disinfect the space.”
The student who has tested positive will not be allowed to return to school until the Polk County Health Department approves their return.
Six middle school teachers tested positive for COVID-19, said Carlisle Middle School Principal John Elkin to families on Monday. These teachers will be quarantined until Sept. 4, two weeks from the date of their exposure on Aug. 21.
“During the quarantine, the district will arrange for coverage for the classrooms with substitutes or other staff members, and if quarantined teachers are able to work, they will join their classrooms remotely through videoconferencing,” he said, noting that these quarantined teachers may have to come work, if asymptomatic and if help cannot be found.
“If the district is unable to provide classroom coverage through substitutes or other staff members, under essential worker guidelines, quarantined teachers are allowed to work so long as they are being screened and are asymptomatic.”
Chariton Superintendent Larry Achenbach on Wednesday alerted parents, staff and community members of a positive COVID-19 case in the district.
“The individual who has tested positive is at home recovering,” he said. “At this time, CCSD plans to continue with their current plans of operation.”
Currently, preschool through fifth grade is learning 100% in-person while grades 6-12 are using a hybrid model through Sept. 4.
In an email to parents on Monday, Clear Lake Superintendent Doug Gee said a staff member had tested positive for COVID-19 on Aug. 21. The positive staff member is at home, where they will be working.
The email was sent shortly after students returned to school that morning for the first time since March.
“We have followed all CDC guidelines for cleaning and disinfecting prior to building/district reopening this morning,” the email stated.
Hampton-Dumont Community School District Superintendent Todd Lettow notified parents and community members on Wednesday of a staff member and two students who tested positive for COVID-19.
The positive individual were at South Side elementary and middle schools on Tuesday, the district’s first day of school, though the exposure was “limited and contained” so all district school buildings are remaining “open and operational.”
After a few teachers tested positive for COVID-19, the Indianola Community School District announced Monday that it will move sixth grade classes to remote learning.
On the district website, an announcement by Superintendent Art Sathoff said that contact tracing determined an original sick teacher came in direct contact with seven other sixth grade teachers last Friday.
All seven teachers of the teachers were quarantined, Sathoff said, and that one has tested positive.
The second teacher to test positive for COVID-19 came into contact with five additional sixth grade teachers, contact tracing revealed.
“This means that we are, unfortunately, going to have to move the sixth grade to continuous learning-remote to begin the school year,” Sathoff said. “Virtually the entire sixth grade team is impacted, and there is no way to arrange coverage for onsite learning.”
The district is attempting to find classroom coverage through substitute teachers and other staff.
Keokuk Community School District on Sunday posted an update on Facebook notifying community members that three employees had tested positive for COVID-19 — one at Hawthorne Elementary School, one at the high school and a third who does not work in a school building.
“The Hawthorne employee has recovered and will be returning to work soon and the other two will not be returning until they are well, and have been cleared to return to work,” the Facebook post stated.
In a Facebook post on Thursday, the Maquoketa Community School District said they were informed of a varsity football player who tested positive for COVID-19.
“Those people who were deemed to be in close contact have been notified and instructed to isolate for 14 days per Public Health guidelines,” the post said. “The district continues to monitor this situation and will remain in close contact with Public Health. All health and safety measures will continue in all of our buildings.”
Nashua-Plainfield Community Schools Superintendent Keith Turner on Tuesday notified students, staff and community members that there was a positive COVID-19 case within the high school football program, which immediately stopped football activities.
The positive test also means that all high school football athletes, managers and coaches will stay home from school until further notice.
“Additionally, there will be no ADP [Wednesday] morning, no morning athletic practices for any middle school and high school sports,” said Turner.
According to the district’s website, a sixth grade student in the Nevada Community School District was diagnosed with COVID-19 by a physician. The district was informed Wednesday afternoon.
The district reported the student may have exposed 21 classmates to the virus. Their families were notified.
North Mahaska Community School District Superintendent and Elementary Principal Angela Livezey on Wednesday in a letter said that a staff member had tested positive for COVID-19.
The staff member was at the district’s in-service days on Monday and Tuesday, the letter said, but did not have contact with students.
In an email to families, Norwalk Community School District provided updates on Wednesday that two students tested positive for COVID-19, and one tested positive prior to the start of the school year, with 63 students currently isolating.
No staff members had tested positive, though three are currently isolating.
WOI-TV reported 13 students and two staff members in the Oskaloosa School District, which started Monday for students and staff, are in quarantine because of coronavirus exposure.
Pella High School families received word Wednesday that a staff member had tested positive. Class will continue in-person.
“Due to the nature of the staff member’s role, we are confident that the potential exposure is limited to two rooms. Students and families in those rooms have been contacted by the school. Outside of the two rooms mentioned, classes will continue as scheduled,” Principal Adam Beckel said in the email.
Shenandoah Superintendent Kerri Nelson on Wednesday notified parents that an employee tested positive for COVID-19.
“The employee who is COVID-19 positive is at home recovering and will not return to work until the quarantine period has expired, and symptoms have improved,” Nelson said. “A staff member who has been directly exposed but is not symptomatic has been quarantined to avoid the potential for further spread of the virus.”
The Waukee Community School District said it was informed Wednesday of a student who tested positive for COVID-19. The Woodland Hills Elementary student did attend the first day of school on Tuesday, the district said in an email, but was not at school on Wednesday.
Families impacted by the positive diagnosis should have been emailed or called on Wednesday afternoon.
In a message to community members, Winterset Community School District reported two staff members who tested positive for COVID-19.
The district said they had conducted contact tracing and “anyone who it was determined had been in close contact and potentially exposed has been notified and will quarantine for 14 days.”
West Des Moines
On Aug. 14, the West Des Moines Community School District learned one person affiliated with the varsity football team tested positive for COVID-19.
WDMCS and the Polk County Health Department determined that no one else affiliated with the football team had close contact with the individual or needed to self-quarantine, the district told WeAreIowa.
The district on Thursday informed Westridge Elementary School families that they learned that day of an individual in the school who tested positive for the virus.
By Isabella Murray
Iowa Starting Line is an independently-owned progressive news outlet devoted to providing unique, insightful coverage on Iowa news and politics. We need reader support to continue operating — please donate here. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for more coverage.