What They Have, What They Don’t: Four Iowa Return to Learn Plans

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By Nikoel Hytrek

August 13, 2021

Across Iowa, schools are preparing to open their doors for students and faculty this fall.

COVID cases are quickly rising again, and a state law was passed in May bans schools from requiring students and faculty to wear masks. While thousands of parents want the law to be rescinded, the plans released by Iowa school districts so far follow it.

According to federal guidance, every district must have an updated return-to-learn plan by Aug. 20. Not every district in Iowa has that yet, but this is the direction they’re trending toward.

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At a recent meeting, the superintendent of Ankeny Community Schools announced the district plans to operate as normal and follow state law and guidelines from the Iowa Department of Public Health and Iowa Department of Education to respond to COVID-positive students and staff.

Masks aren’t mandatory for students, staff, or visitors, but Ankeny Superintendent Erick Pruitt recommended parents meet with their children’s doctors about whether they should wear a mask to school. However, because of a federal rule, masks will be required on school buses for drivers and students.

School custodians will clean for health, which means a focus on disinfecting surfaces. For personal use, hand sanitizer will be available in all common areas and classrooms, and there will be an emphasis on hand-washing for at least 20 seconds.

The district won’t require students to quarantine but advises children to be kept home if they show signs of any infection, for COVID-19 or anything else.

The district offered a remote learning option, but the registration window closed Thursday. From a survey the district conducted in July, there were 631 families that requested a remote learning option, and “414 families identified a need for remote learning due to health condition of student or member of their household.”

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Sioux City

The plan offered on the school district’s website for the 2021-22 school year is currently being reviewed by the Iowa Department of Education. The school also plans to follow the Centers for Disease Control guidance and adjust its policy as needed.

Per state law, masks aren’t required but Sioux City Schools encourage everyone who isn’t vaccinated to wear a mask daily. Students are encouraged to bring their own and the school will offer masks to anyone who requests one.

“School district staff will ensure any student choosing to wear a mask feels comfortable with their decision,” the plan notes. “Conversations in classrooms will occur that promote tolerance and acceptance for student’s choices.”

The district will follow the same cleaning practices as last year, including having students clean their desks/stations before and after class. Those supplies, along with hand sanitizer, will be available in every classroom and office. Custodial staff will also clean high-touch areas throughout the day.

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The district expects parents to take children’s temperature before school or activities, and to keep them home if children show symptoms. Parents and volunteers will not be allowed to visit classrooms as a precaution.

If a child shows COVID symptoms at school, the parent or guardian will be notified and the child will be sent to a “caring room” with a mask. The rooms are meant to be private and away from other school traffic. They will also have the supplies and equipment for evaluating if a student should be sent home, including COVID tests. A school nurse or certified nurse’s assistant will attend to the student.

If the parent/guardian grants permission, the child will take a COVID test. Results from COVID tests will be shared with the parent, and, if the child tests positive, the parent is expected to pick them up from school.

Sioux City Schools will also provide a virtual option.

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The Carroll Community School District Board of Education approved a return-to-learn plan on Monday based on state and local guidance.

The plan will adjust alongside state recommendations.

All students and all grades are expected to be at the school in person and there is no online option. Instead, the district will continue previous cleaning and sanitation practices, which include hand washing before eating and before class. Students will have breaks to do that, and hand sanitizer will be provided.

Any face coverings are optional, and students or staff are responsible for providing their own.

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The district says it will treat COVID like any other illness. Data for the number of positive cases, history of positive cases, and exposures will not be published. If someone shows COVID symptoms, they’ll go to the nurse’s office “for further evaluation.”

Parents are expected to notify the school if there’s a confirmed case in their homes. Same goes for school staff.

Following regular child illness guidelines, children will be kept out of school if they show symptoms. They can return to school 10 days after COVID-like symptoms start as long as symptoms have improved for 24 hours. If the child is asymptomatic, the exclusion lasts 10 days after a positive test.


The plan for Pella Community Schools also treats COVID like a regular childhood illness with similar exclusion guidelines as Carroll.

Teachers will encourage hand-washing and the use of hand sanitizer. Custodians will clean frequently touched areas, and provide supplies for teachers to clean student desks and areas. Custodians will also clean classrooms according to their schedules.

Common areas will be used as normal. At odds with federal guidelines, masks on school buses are optional.

The district will provide full personal-protective equipment for nursing and other staff, but staff are allowed to wear it as they see fit. At the advice of the Marion County Public Health Department, if there’s a positive case in a school, the district will treat it like flu and buildings will only be closed if “contagion exceeds 10%.”

Families with high-risk for COVID can meet with school nurses to come up with a health plan. Parents will be notified of positive cases, but will not get details about who tested positive and who may have been exposed.


by Nikoel Hytrek

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  • Nikoel Hytrek

    Nikoel Hytrek is Iowa Starting Line’s longest-serving reporter. She covers LGBTQ issues, abortion rights and all topics of interest to Iowans. Her biggest goal is to help connect the dots between policy and people’s real lives. If you have story ideas or tips, send them over to [email protected].

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