MARSHALLTOWN, Iowa — It is clear throughout the state of Iowa that 14-day positivity rates are skyrocketing. Marshall County is no exception at 20%. “It’s disheartening to see as bad as things have gotten that there are still people that aren’t willing to wear masks,” said Marshalltown Community School District Superintendent Theron Schutte. The superintendent says student absent rates related to COVID-19 are just 5% and should be a model for the community and state to follow. “We are simply implementing what the CDC and Iowa Department of Public Health says needs to be implemented.”
Schutte says face mask requirements, desk shields and social distancing are helping keep the district’s students safe. Schutte says based on current data there is no reason to change from their current hybrid learning model. “I feel very strongly that if we were at 25% or 30% positivity and saw little or none resonate from our staff we would continue to function as in person schooling.”
Earlier this fall the Marshalltown High School volleyball season was cut short because of players testing positive. For Schutte, switching to remote learning without a jump in student absences, only gives the district’s students more exposure in a community with a spike in COVID-19 cases. “We’ve just seen very little evidence that any of the spread has actually occurred at school,” Schutte said.
What could drive Marshalltown to remote learning and applying for a waiver? They are running low on teachers not because of positive tests but contact tracing. “It’s very unlikely that the student absentee rate is going to drive that request. It’s going to be our inability to staff our classroom to function,” Schutte said.
Schutte says Marshalltown is blue collar and switching to remote learning when he feels it’s not necessary could deal a massive blow on the town’s economy. Schutte said, “If we can’t be in session and parents have to figure out daycare and daycares are closed down then parents have to stay home from work and it is a rippling effect with the workforce.”
All are decisions that weigh heavy on superintendents and carry consequences for more than just education. “I’m very cognizant of that and yet at the end of the day I have to make a decision that’s in the best interest of that whole group,” said Schutte.
Superintendent Schutte says if they begin to see evidence of a spread within the schools they will re-evaluate and provide a 48-hour notice of their intention to move to remote learning. A letter was sent out to parents within the district detailing the decision to remain in their current hybrid model.