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The Carlisle community school district gave itself “time” Monday, voting 4-1 to add two days of remote learning to an already extended Thanksgiving break.

Students at Carlisle will be done with classes on Tuesday and return to in-person learning Dec. 7, after teachers have workdays on Dec. 3 and 4. They’ll be provided with packets for asynchronous learning (learning on their own) for those two days.

“We’re trying to create a plan that maintains what’s best for kids and to give our teachers some time to get caught up and plan,” said superintendent Bryce Amos.

But the extended time off also provides other benefits, he said.

“It gives us 10 days from Thanksgiving,” he told the school board. “We’re not naïve, we know people are going to travel and be in large groups. This gives us 10 or 12 days to understand what we have coming back on Dec. 7. It gives us time also to make a different decision.”

The board will meet again Thursday, Dec. 3, at 6:30 p.m., to review case counts before classes resume Dec. 7.

Amos told the board that as of Monday at 2 p.m., the district had five staff members with active cases of COVID and 18 students. Fourteen staff members are in quarantine due to close contact with someone with COVID and 138 students are in quarantine.

More than 90 percent of those students are slated to return to in-person classes on Dec. 7. The work days will give teachers time to prepare for that influx, he said.

As of Monday, the Iowa Department of Public Health was reporting that Warren County had a positivity rate of 16.8 percent, while Polk County has a positivity rate of 18.5 percent. Some students in the Carlisle district live in Polk County. That’s a drop from Nov. 13, when Warren County was sitting at 18.4 percent positivity and Polk County was at 19.6 percent.

“We’re hoping the numbers that will get better during that time,” said Amos. “If our numbers do go back up, we need to respond to that.”

Much of the discussion at the meeting centered on the load being carried by teachers.

“Our teachers have not had a workday since August,” Amos said. “We have been on onsite learning and remote learning and supporting temporary remote learning for 13 weeks.”

The district has been struggling to get enough substitutes to cover absences, he added, with district staff covering three to seven teacher positions per day over the last five school days.

Principals report that staff wants time to work on three things — time to plan, time to get caught up and time to look at how temporary remote learning plans are being handled, said Amos.

“The temporary remote learning plans in our sixth through 12th grade is our biggest stress,” he said, because teachers are having to cover in-person, remote and temporary remote learning.

Despite that, he said, teachers still believe that “onsite learning is best for our students.”

But board member Jeramie Eginoire said he was hearing differently from teachers. At the middle school, staff members had told him that “we are barely staying afloat,” Eginoire said. “’We are trying to maintain a positive attitude but we are defeated and frustrated.’”

Eginoire said the comments were changing his feelings about remote learning.

“This time last month, I was 100 percent face-to-face learning,” he said, noting that there were 22 students and staff out of school at that time. “Now we have 188 gone due to a positive test. This is me trying to be a voice for the teachers who are getting their butts kicked.

“We’re talking about 12 days of school from Dec. 7 to Dec. 22,” he continued. “I don’t see those days making or breaking the education of our students. I do see those 12 days making or breaking some of our teachers.”

“There’s a lot of teachers who said onsite was the way to go,” responded board member Samantha Fett. “As a board we have really hard decisions here, we’re looking at the metrics, the numbers haven’t gone up. We need to stick with our plan and have empathy with our teachers.”

But board member Hillary Gardner said she wanted to see more than empathy.

“I want to have some really good plans in place,” she said. “I want to be a little better prepared as far as helping our educators out as much as we can.”

Amos noted that a decision to go fully remote would create stress on families as well.

“Think about the stress you put on parents if we go remote,” he said, including the need to arrange childcare. “There’s a whole bunch of issues you face if you go remote. We have to at least give parents enough notice to put that together.”

Amos said he would recommend a least one week of notice before the district would make any move to fully remote learning.

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