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An update to the Western Dubuque School District Return to Learn plan will require face coverings for most students and will offer a hybrid plan that has face-to-face learning four days a week with one day to accommodate distance learners.

A notification sent to families last week said that face coverings will be required of all staff and all students in grades 2-12, “unless social distancing can be practiced (pending documented medical reasons). Face coverings from students in grades pre-K to first grade will not be required, but are encouraged.

The district’s hybrid model will offer face-to-face learning in school buildings Monday through Thursday when classes begin Thursday, Aug. 13.

Superintendent Rick Colpitts said the inability to socially distance led to the four-day plan as well as the requirement for face coverings.

“The key for us was we looked at some of the districts that had hybrid plans that alternated days because they wanted to socially distance. For us to do that, looking at our classroom space and sizes, if we’re going to socially distance at six feet apart, we wouldn’t be able to do an every-other-day model.”

Instead, Colpitts said the district would be forced to offer face-to-face learning only every third or fourth day. “We felt if we were in a situation where we had to follow the social distance recommendations from the Center for Disease Control (CDC), that we would have to just go to a virtual classroom. It wouldn’t make sense for us to bring kids in every third or fourth day for face-to-face learning.”

Colpitts also cited transportation logistics for the decision. “Getting families in school on the same day was another roadblock for us when we were trying to come up with a hybrid plan like Dubuque Community Schools, which is every other day in person.”

Colpitts said the four days of face-to-face learning will be full days.

With no face-to-face classes on Friday, teachers will be able to work with virtual learning students, as well as plan and implement virtual learning lessons for the following week and place them on the school’s content management system.

As of last week, roughly 8% of the district’s students, or about 230, have indicated they will use the distance learning option.

“Teachers need time to prepare lessons, but in addition, it’s a day to connect for the distance learning students,” said Colpitts. “That can happen virtually, or if the student is willing to come in, they may do that since school won’t be in session.”

Colpitts said the district hopes to return to normal at some point during the year.“Our hope is that this is a short-term kind of situation,” he said. “But the one thing we know about this is that we don’t know. Hopefully, we can get back to face-to-face with all our students as soon as it is feasible.”