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Parents, students and district patrons got their first look at the Western Dubuque School District’s Return to Learn plan after the district released plan details to the public last week.

All Iowa school districts were required by the Iowa Department of Education to submit a plan by July 1 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which kept students in Iowa schools home since the middle of March. The plans share districts’ details of how they will provide education to their students during the pandemic.

As with all school districts in the state, Western Dubuque has three plan options: face-to-face learning, distance learning and a hybrid learning that combines elements of both face-to-face and distance learning.

Western Dubuque Superintendent Rick Colpitts said officials are planning for face-to-face learning when classes begin mid-August. He said that many aspects of the school day won’t change that much from previous years.

“Our general school day won’t change that much,” Colpitts explained. “For us, the difference will be potentially those larger gathering situations like lunch. We will definitely look at some alternatives to putting 200 kids at the high school in the cafeteria at one time. We are considering spreading those kids out into other areas.”

He added that the question of how to handle lunchtime is different at each building in the district. “That’s because of space. We really haven’t dug down and said here is our plan for lunch if we are back in school face-to-face. We know we have to do that and will have that in place by the time we are back in school.”

Face coverings will not be required to be worn by either students or staff. But with the district running busing as in other years, Colpitts said they are recommending students wear a face covering on the bus. “Because we can’t social distance on the buses, we recommend students wear a face covering.”

Colpitts said hand sanitizing stations will be available in all buildings. He also said the district will avoid large groups whenever possible.

“Our goal is to keep outsiders from coming into the building as much as possible to minimize that kind of stuff. So we won’t be doing school assemblies and we won’t be taking field trips.”

Parents will receive a survey this week to see how many families may choose not to send their students to face-to-face learning, instead opting to use the district’s virtual component. Colpitts said the results of that survey will help determine which plan the district uses to educate students.

“If we find out it’s a small number that choose not to attend face-to-face, we will deal with that accordingly. If it is a higher percentage of people, we will probably look at our hybrid model.”

The district’s hybrid model has face-to-face learning from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., then allows teachers to offer distance learning after that to students not in the classroom.

According to Colpitts, dozens of district stakeholders developed the plan. “We had community members, teachers, school board members, our nursing department, counselors, all our district administrators along with heads of technology, curriculum and special education.”

He said the district looked at return to learn plans from other states, as well as plans from other districts in Iowa. He admits the plan won’t make everyone happy.

“The problem with the plan is that it is going to upset people regardless of which model we are in. There is no making everyone happy. Based on the emails I have received, if we require face coverings, I’ve got a percentage of people furious about it. If I am only recommending face coverings, I’ve got a number of people furious about that. That’s the nature of this situation and that’s the hard part for us. Regardless of what model we are in, there are people who will think we are not doing the right thing. And that’s a pretty frustrating place to be.”

He added that the plan may change by the time students report for classes Thursday, Aug. 13.

“This is our plan as of July 1. We anticipate that it will shift and change. We will communicate changes as they happen. Based on what Gov. Reynolds says, what the county board of health says and what we are experiencing on our own will determine some of the things that are going on and what changes we can implement.”

Colpitts said anyone with questions may call the district office. The complete plan may be found at the Western Dubuque Community Schools Facebook page.