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Local 5 - weareiowa.com | Des Moines Local News & Weather | Des Moines, Iowa

Small Iowa school district pivots to hybrid learning model after coronavirus outbreak

District leaders are forced to make quick decisions, some with little notice to parents, as the virus hits rural communities.

EDDYVILLE, Iowa — Superintendent Scott Williamson was confident in the face-to-face five days a week learning model he had presented to the Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont school board in August. At that time, the counties the school covered had low positivity rates and staff and students were not reporting positive coronavirus tests. 

Less than a month later and the district's plan has completely changed. After 18 staff members had tested positive and 135 students were in quarantine because of possible exposure, Williamson had to make the call to the school board to move the entire district of about 870 students to a hybrid learning model. 

He did this from his home, not his district office, because he had tested positive for COVID-19 himself. Williamson said he likely got it while working.

"We had what I would call an outbreak," said Williamson. "We said, we just have to hit pause right now...we immediately stopped and got everybody  to get to hybrid, especially the elementaries because they needed that time to get everything ready."

Teachers, staff, and students had the Labor Day weekend to prepare for a hybrid learning model, with half of the students in the building some days of the week and the other half learning remotely. Williamson said this new learning model has drastically reduced the number of quarantined students and staff, as well as the number of individuals testing positive.

"We wanted to reduce the growth of positive cases, and since going to that we have seen a dramatic drop-off, so it worked," said Williamson. 

E-B-F students have been learning in the hybrid model for a week now, along with following new rules in the building when they attend. Face masks are now required, not recommended. Williamson said principals have voiced some issues with that.

"That has caused some challenges in the community because some people don't think they should be wearing a mask at all," said Williamson. 

RELATED: COVID-19 in Iowa: State reports 13.63% positivity rate, 3 additional deaths the past 24 hours

E-B-F district officials have also seen the number of students signing up for 100% virtual learning more than double since the beginning of the school year. One teacher in the district is handling all of the virtual learners, no matter what grade, but if the number of students selecting this model continues to go up, Williamson said they'll likely need to make changes.

The decision to go to a hybrid model is good through the beginning of October. In the next week, district officials will be meeting with the school board to discuss what the rest of the semester will look like. 

Williamson said that although he firmly believes face-to-face learning is the best model, this new mode of learning might be the best for the time we're in.

"I think this situation was a turning point for our district and we feel very positive about where we are going right now," said Williamson.

E-B-F is not the first small district to change its approach to the school year once classes got underway. Williamson noted he is bringing information to the school board that shows many rural districts in the area are using the hybrid learning model to provide learning for their students during the pandemic.

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