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Iowa School District Expands Online COVID-19 Dashboard

The school district in Burlington, Iowa, has expanded its COVID-19 data sharing dashboard, reconfiguring it to more closely resemble a previous version before the state issued data sharing guidance.

by Michaele Niehaus, The Hawk Eye / October 1, 2020
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(TNS) — The Burlington, Iowa, School District again has changed how it shares COVID-19 data.

Superintendent Pat Coen told the school board Monday the dashboard has been reconfigured to more closely resemble what initially had been posted before the Iowa Department of Education issued guidance on how schools should share data on the virus.

"The state government told us we have to change our dashboard," Coen said. "During a meeting with the (school board) president (Dean Vickstrom) and vice president (Tom Courtney), it was discussed that they didn't really agree with that."

The DoE recommended schools not post any numbers below six to avoid the potential of students or staff with the virus or in quarantine due to exposure to or symptoms of COVID-19 being identified.

The data the district initially posted was broken down by school building, students and staff. Curriculum Director Cory Johnson explained because it would be rare for any school building to have more than six in one category, it made more sense to present the data on a district level.

After meeting with Vickstrom and Courtney about the issue, however, it was decided building data could be shared without identifying students. Numbers below six in each category are marked with an asterisk to indicate there is at least one person who meets the category descriptor, but the data once again is broken down by building.

"We did some work and we did bring our dashboard back a lot closer to what it was and still leave people unidentifiable," Coen said.

As of 8 a.m. Tuesday, Sunnyside Elementary School and Aldo Leopold Intermediate School each had at least one staff member with the virus, while four buildings had at least one staff member quarantined due to exposure or symptoms of the virus. At least one Black Hawk Elementary School student but fewer than six had tested positive for the virus, while 10 students in the school were in quarantine. An additional 11 Burlington High School students also were in quarantine. District-wide, 44 students were in quarantine.

Board member Anika McVey thanked those involved in providing more specific data.

"I think that that helps in our transparency and helps parents ... keep track, too," McVey said. "I think that helps them with a little bit less worry."

While not much has been normal over the past six months, the Burlington School District was able to hold its Homecoming parade after Des Moines County's positivity rate fell below 6%.

"The highlight of the week was Des Moines County's COVID number (positivity rate) was below 6," Coen told the board. "We were able to have our bonafide Homecoming parade. The joy was short-lived though as our number started to climb back up."

As of 1 p.m. Tuesday, the positivity rate had climbed back up slightly to 6.3% as Des Moines County's total number of confirmed cases inched past 800.

Coen said he and Athletic Director Jay Huff have received a mixed bag of comments about the parade.

"Some people felt there was an indifference to the COVID mitigation strategies as some of the individual groups in the parade didn't have masks on, while other parade observers voiced their appreciation for how well our students adhered to expectations of wearing masks during the parade," Coen said.

Coen reported he had watched the parade and reported he did not see any issues. He pointed out some people driving vehicles did not wear masks, but noted driving a vehicle with your window down is not considered a threat to public health so long as the people inside the vehicle already have been in close contact, such as with family members.

Coen also noted he had received correspondence from people concerned about masks not being worn by students on the Homecoming court while photos were being taken. He said he did not think the students were in close contact without masks for more than 15 minutes.

Board member Darven Kendell pointed out he has noticed many people not wearing masks at Bracewell Stadium and referred back to previous board discussions on whether masks should be required at sporting events.

Board member Nancy Hoelzen said she had visited Aldo Leopold Intermediate School and commended teaching staff for the work they are doing teaching students both online and in class. She did, however, report she feels people are getting more "lax" on wearing masks while inside the building.

"When a teacher is moving around the room, they really need to put their mask back on," Hoelzen said. "I want to really stress the importance of not forgetting that we still need to do what we need to do. That's why are numbers have been going down, because we've been wearing masks."

Coen shared with the board he had attended the Iowa Department of Education's webinar entitled "It's Okay to be Uncomfortable: Moving Toward Racial Equality in Education in Iowa" and said it was good but left him with more questions.

"It was a great conversation -- thought provoking," Coen said. "The thing that I want to know now is now what and how do we keep moving toward that direction and not let that die. ... I want to know more. What's going to change with the DE, AEA, school districts, classrooms, and then actually looking the kid in the eye, working through issues."

Board member Joel Sieren asked what the board should do to ensure that the district is moving toward education equality.

Coen said trimesters already are helping the district toward that goal, but he cautioned the district will need to continue to search for and provide opportunities to students.

"Right now, we're way ahead. When we started here five years ago, you could walk down the hall and see a child of color, and you could go 'one, two, dropout, one, two, dropout,'" Coen said. "Our trimesters have not only raised the overall graduation rate to close to our 30-year high, it has raised everybody up.

"Our really fast-moving kids that know which university they want to go to and which graduate school they want to go to, can take more and they are. All the way to our children who are struggling and dislike school, they can get to their passion faster. We can take the displeasure factor way down low and bring them up

"Right now we're riding a wave of increased graduation rate for individuals who are a protected class of citizenry because of their cognition, and also individuals who are a protected class of citizenry because of their racial composition. So right now, we're doing well. We just need to keep pushing."

James Madison Education Center is providing the district with a unique opportunity to see how schools' curricula align.

The center, which serves kindergarten through sixth grade students on their continuous learning days, brings students from throughout the district under one roof.

"We're able to see where we're at on a curriculum strand," Coen said. "Are we vertically and horizontally aligned and at what level of different online instruction is taking place. We're actually able to use that as a lab school, and it's turning out to be pretty cool from an educational science point, social science to be specific."

Following a public hearing during which no public comment was made, the board approved a resolution allowing the transfer of $130,000 from the 4-year-old Preschool Program and $60,000 from the Professional Development Fund into the Flexibility Fund.

The transfer makes the money available for staffing start-up costs related to the Corse Early Childhood Center and the establishment of an employee relief fund to provide money for staff impacted by the pandemic.

Johnson used the board meeting to remind parents and students that continuous learning days are required this year.

"Continuous learning day is a required and expected learning day, and every day Monday through Thursday is a school day, so even if you're not in person, we do want you engaged and involved in online learning because it's an important part of your education this year," Johnson said.

©2020 The Hawk Eye (Burlington, Iowa). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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