Dubuque Community Schools students will attend classes remotely for one week following Thanksgiving break, district officials announced Thursday.
School leaders are making the switch as a precaution, anticipating that there will be a spike in COVID-19 cases when students and staff return from break, Superintendent Stan Rheingans said. The plan is contingent on state approval.
“We know that over Thanksgiving, our staff, our students will have a greater exposure,” he said. “So, I think it’s logical to say then we might see a spike in our students and staff who have (COVID-19) as well. So we want to keep those folks out of our buildings until that spike has passed.”
Students in the district will attend classes virtually from Nov. 30 through Dec. 4 and return to hybrid learning on Dec. 7, Rheingans wrote in a letter to families.
He said in an interview Thursday that the district’s hybrid learning system — in which students alternate in-person and remote learning days — is working well. However, officials also have seen “significant” spikes in cases following holidays earlier in the school year.
Switching to virtual learning for one week will give students and staff who might have been exposed to COVID-19 over Thanksgiving time to check for symptoms and be tested for the virus, Rheingans said.
“It’s just an attempt to safeguard our hybrid system,” he said. “We don’t want the system to become undone because of a spike after Thanksgiving.”
As of Thursday afternoon, the district reported 23 active COVID-19 cases among students and 22 among staff. Hempstead High School had the most cases of any of the district’s schools, with nine cases: five staff and four students.
District officials have applied to the Iowa Department of Education for a waiver to temporarily move to virtual learning. Rheingans said state officials so far have approved remote learning for districts in counties with 14-day positivity rates of more than 20%. Dubuque County’s 14-day rate was 23.2% as of 5 p.m. Thursday.
“I would assume that we won’t have any trouble getting the waiver,” Rheingans said.
Elementary, middle and high school students will each have a different structure for their week of virtual learning, depending on what best meets the needs of that age group of students. More information about the logistics of virtual learning for different students will be released in the coming days.
District officials also will open additional meal sites during that week, with more information to be released soon.
The Dubuque district is among the latest to announce plans to temporarily move to remote learning after Thanksgiving break. Districts announcing similar moves so far include the Shullsburg and Iowa-Grant districts in Wisconsin and the Maquoketa (Iowa) Community School District.
This week, the school board in East Dubuque, Ill., approved a proposal to move students in fifth through 12th grade to remote learning for the week after Thanksgiving and the week after Christmas.
Superintendent T.J. Potts tied that decision to a mix of factors. Older students tend to be out and about more often, staffing at the junior high and high school has been a little thin recently, and the district’s youngest students tend to have the hardest time with remote learning.
“By taking a short pause with the older kids, we feel like we won’t be putting our district in a position where everybody has to go remote for an extended period of time,” Potts said.
Meanwhile, officials from Holy Family Catholic Schools in Dubuque announced Thursday that they will continue in-person learning following Thanksgiving break.
Chief Administrator Phillip Bormann said the system’s learning model is set up so students can participate in either in-person or virtual learning on a given day. Families concerned about a potential exposure or symptoms can have their children stay home and learn virtually.
Bormann said current positive cases have not reached the system’s metrics to move to virtual learning, though officials would make adjustments if that were to change.
As of Thursday, the school system was reporting 20 students and eight staff active cases of COVID-19. That total includes 11 cases among Wahlert Catholic High School students.
“If they are healthy, we want families to send their kids in-person, as we believe that is what’s best for our kids,” Bormann said.
Rick Colpitts, superintendent of Western Dubuque Community School District, could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon. The district’s website on Thursday night reported that, as of Wednesday, there were 11 confirmed cases among students and five among staff.