School administrators are struggling to create a Return to Learn program for Davis County students this fall that will account for in-school learning, virtual learning, or a combination of the two as dictated by the COVID-19 situation.

“Probably the biggest challenge facing us right now is that guidance coming from the state level leaves a lot of room for interpretation,” Superintendent Dan Maeder said Thursday.

Davis County school officials feel it is necessary to seek counsel not only from the Iowa Department of Education but also attorneys, EMC Insurance, CDC, IDPH and Davis County Public Health on what the coming school year will look like.

“We know the best learning takes place when there is teacher-student interaction in the classroom, and we desire to get to that state,” Maeder said. “However, we must consider the health and safety of our community, and the level to which we can come back will be partially determined by the level of risk our insurance company and attorneys feel comfortable in supporting the school district.”

Maeder, like many superintendents, is frustrated with the state for not providing more definitive guidance on when kids should and shouldn’t be in school.

With the lack of clear guidance, the superintendents of ADLM (Appanoose, Davis, Lucas, and Monroe) schools have formed a consortium to collaborate on developing clear guidelines for their schools this fall. The consortium is working with emergency managers, county public health agencies, school attorneys and EMC Insurance to determine when kids should and shouldn’t be in school.

The consortium will also help make decisions on when to reduce or increase student capacity in school buildings.

“We (superintendents) want to refrain from knee-jerk reactions,” Maeder said. “We want to create metrics so we all have a good idea of what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, and why we’re doing it. We believe we can make those predetermined decision points to help us make good judgement calls when the time comes.”

Davis County Schools have been diligent about seeking the advice of parents before creating their Return to Learn plan. Nearly all of the parents in the district have been interviewed by school personnel, and Maeder says survey results show parents understand the situation, understand the challenges the schools are facing, and they want their kids back in school.

“We all want the same things,” Maeder says, “but our families are concerned about the health and well-being of others, and we know some are at higher risk. A few families are very concerned about sending their kids back to school because of family members in high-risk categories.”

Maeder said Davis County’s Return to Learn plan must be able to serve some kids at school while others are at home.

“The plan must be accessible, appropriate, and feasible,” he said.

The plan must be accessible to all kids and teachers at home or at school. It must be appropriate for the level of kids being served, and it must be feasible — not just financially, but feasible for families and for the school.

Maeder said administrators know the district can’t provide face-to-face education for all and still observe social-distancing regulations. “With the existing buildings we have, we can only serve 50% of the student body at any given time,” he said.

“Right now, we are preparing to provide virtual learning to every child; preparing to work at 50% capacity (with students alternating days in the classroom); and also preparing for 75% to 90% attending school with a few remaining at home,” he said.

“We will continue to meet families’ needs. We will be in one of those options until we have resolved the COVID problem through vaccine or some other solution,” he said.

While Maeder said there is a lot of ambiguity that continues to be unnerving in this situation, he has confidence in the skills, abilities, and the determination of teachers and community members to make the best of the situation.

“I’m confident we will work it out,” he said. “I would not want to be in any other district right now during this fight. Our people are doing a tremendous job.”