Muscatine School Board briefed on possible next steps
by Margaret Hurlbert
November 16, 2020

MUSCATINE, Iowa—On March 17, the Muscatine County School Board held a special meeting regarding recent school closures related to COVID-19. As MCSD Superintendent Jerry Riibe explained it, “the meeting was primarily to get board members up to speed about what we know and what we need to work on over the next few weeks.” During the meeting Riibe and other district officials shared the state guidance they received on providing meals to students in need, assigning high school credit due to the shortened quarter, making up hours, and the feasibility of online learning.

Beginning March 23, Muscatine will have access to an additional allocation of the USDA grant money they receive to run the summer lunch program. This will allow them to open meal sites at Franklin Elementary, Madison Elementary, Jefferson Elementary, the MCSD board office, the Cedar Park Apartments, M&W Mobile Home Park, Ripley’s Mobile Home Park, and the Salvation Army, that will provide free grab and go breakfast and lunches for the duration of the school closures. Regardless of how long the closures last, Riibe assured the board the district would still receive USDA grant money to run their regularly scheduled summer meal program.

To address concerns of assigning credit to high school students, especially seniors, Riibe shared that the Iowa Department of Education, “to their credit, they’re giving districts significant latitude,” in how to determine how much credit students receive and if they will graduate. Though MCSD has not formulated an exact plan for assigning credit because they do not have a definite end date for the school closures Riibe stressed that, “we will err on the side of the seniors.” He added, “we want to make sure they can do what they need to do in the fall.”

On a similar note, Riibe shared that the Iowa Department of Education would forgive students the hours of school they missed due to the closings as no one can foresee how long the closures will last. If schools reopen in three weeks as currently scheduled, Riibe stated that students may make up some or all of the time. Riibe expects that teachers will make up missed time through additional summer training. “At this point, we’re looking at having teachers make that time up; it would be an opportunity for significant professional development,” he expanded.

Finally, Riibe emphasized that the district would not provide virtual instruction as such programs present many technical and legal roadblocks. In guidelines made available by the Iowa Department of Education, no school can require students to participate in online learning during a school closure. Because not all students have internet access at home, the district cannot require participation or assign graded work online because it penalizes students without access. Additionally, any online education program used must receive approval from the Iowa Department of Education and provide certain supports for students with learning disabilities and English language learners, requirements few programs meet.

Throughout all his comments, Riibe stressed that MCSD’s response will continue to change as more information becomes available.

See MCSD’s latest update and the Iowa Department of Education’s official guidance document below.

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