SIBLEY—The Sibley-Ocheyedan School District passed stricter social distancing measures for all classrooms and most school activities at an emergency school board meeting Thursday night.
Classes were canceled Friday, Sept. 25, to allow teachers and staff to make adjustments to school buildings and curriculum to accommodate the changes which were implemented starting Monday, Sept. 28.
“The timeline of this is very, very short and something that we have to get done,” said superintendent James Craig.
Starting Monday, seating in all classrooms will be spread to allow 6 feet of social distancing, which administrators estimated would allow for 16 students per classrooms.
In K-6, additional open areas in school buildings will be used to help space students out during classroom time.
In 7-12, any students who are not able to fit in the room with social distancing will join the class online from the school auditorium. Classes with overflow students will rotate to maximize in-person learning.
“If we rotate kids around and not every kid has to miss that in-person instruction, it shares that around with everyone,” Craig said.
Students will only be required to attend an in-person class remotely in situations where there is not enough classroom space to allow social distancing for all students.
“How many need to go out is going to be fluid. It might not be the same number every day,” Craig said.
Administrators reported that about half of 7-12 grade classes will be able to relocate to larger classrooms to accommodate the full class for in-person instruction.
Masks still are highly recommended but not required under the new plan.
Under Gov. Kim Reynolds’ public health emergency proclamations, school districts cannot apply to move to remote learning unless the county has exceeded a 15 percent positivity rate.
As of Thursday, Sept. 24, Osceola County stood at a 27.1 percent COVID-19 positivity rate.
Schools also must have a 10 percent absentee rate, which Sibley-Ocheyedan has not reached.
According to the Iowa Department of Public Health, eight school districts have applied to move to remote learning since July 20. Only three districts’ requests were granted.
Craig said Sibley-Ocheyedan intends to continue with in-person instruction with the new measures in place and will monitor daily to see if cases continue or increase among students and staff before making further decisions.
As of Monday, Sept. 28, eight students and eight staff members were positive for the coronavirus out of 767 students and 124 staff. A total of 191 students and staff were isolating or quarantined.
Craig said that once the new social distancing measures are implemented, further positive cases should have less effect on the school population and require fewer people to quarantine.
“By Monday, Oct. 5, we should be able to say virtually no one will have contact,” Craig said. “There is no perfect solution, but starting Oct. 5 we shouldn’t have to worry about it anymore.”
Social distancing also will be required during meals, performances and athletic events.
During mealtime, students will rotate in and out in smaller groups.
First- through fourth-grade students will be distanced as much as possible and those who do not fit in the lunchroom will go to another area not yet designated to eat socially distanced.
Middle school and high school students will be limited to two students per table. Remaining middle school students will eat socially distanced at the library and high school students will go to the bleachers at the gym.
All musical events will be performed virtually with no audience in attendance and livestreamed on the district’s YouTube channel “S-O Media.”
Only marching band performances at football games and at the end of the season will be exempt from this requirement. The fall musical has been postponed until the spring.
Guests at athletic events are strongly encouraged to wear masks and socially distance.
The Friday, Sept. 25 football game in which Emmetsburg was to visit Sibley-Ocheyedan was canceled.
Volleyball match attendance will have limited seated under guidelines from the Siouxland Conference until county positivity falls below 20 percent.
“We’ve had schools that have canceled games with us because we have such a high positivity rate because they are worried about bringing it into their district,” Craig said. “In the end we’re getting to play the game, we’re getting to have some form of crowd, and we need people to take advantage of the opportunity we have to still have these events.”
No changes will be made to the district’s transportation plan, which already requires social distancing on buses and limits bus routes to a two-mile radius from the school.
“This procedure is going to help keep in-person instruction,” Craig said, something principals said district parents want.