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‘More questions than answers’: Davenport superintendent addresses COVID-19 school closure
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‘More questions than answers’: Davenport superintendent addresses COVID-19 school closure

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Davenport Superintendent Robert Kobylski readily admits there are more questions than answers right now. He’s hopeful that will change by the end of the week. 

Davenport was one of four Scott County school districts to announce Monday they would close schools through April 10 to halt the spread of COVID-19, the new coronavirus. 

“As soon as we have decisions, as soon as we have information, we will push that out,” Kobylski said at a press conference Tuesday. 

There are at least a few answers: All of the buildings are being deep cleaned on a 72-hour cycle, by current janitorial staff and more staff outsourced to handle the load of the sanitization process. The 64% of students in the district who qualify for free and reduced lunches will have access to sack lunch pick-ups, even if locations haven’t been announced yet — they won’t be allowed in the buildings at all, to avoid contamination.

“We’re fortunate as a very large school district, to already have (food delivery) in place,” Kobylski said.

For a lot of questions, Kobylski said Davenport was waiting for a “higher authority” to deliver some guidance, which he expects to have in one or two days, in most cases. 

Davenport has the ability to deliver coursework online, Kobylski said. But accessibility and equity for those students who don’t have internet access at home is a concern. 

“The last thing I want to do is send (students) to Starbucks,” he said. While there’s no definitive answer as of Tuesday, Kobylski listed some options: Individual schools have Wi-Fi that extends to the parking lots, so schools could act as a hot spot for students without letting them into the building; phone calls could be made to parents to recommend books for kids to read, or questions they could discuss as a family to keep students engaged. 

Special education services, though, are a lot more complicated without in-person instruction.

State officials were having a conference call with Iowa’s Area Education Agencies on Tuesday, and Kobylski said the district asked Mississippi Bend to ask what special education services should look like for the next few weeks. 

“That’s a critically important question as we look to see what sort of instruction model we can put in place,” Kobylski said, noting the wide “breadth of students” and their needs in the district. “It’s very important we provide learning opportunities for all students. We’re asking for guidance from the state.” 

Even if school is out, employees still have payments on their mortgages, rent and student loans. “I wish I could give them an answer today,” Kobylski said, specifically of hourly employees. The district is talking with the IRS and Iowa Workforce Development to discuss options, and expects to have an answer in a day or two. 

While not hourly, teachers are contracted for a certain number of days, and not holding class for several weeks could impact the contract, even with Gov. Kim Reynolds’ announcement Monday that schools likely wouldn’t have to make up those days if they’re closed. Kobylski said he expected teachers would be asked to do some work while school was out, and they would look at what sort of workday would be counted toward contract days. 

“We’ll be taking a great deal of guidance from our state officials,” Kobylski said about how the rest of the school year looks to maintain consistency between districts.

When prompted, Kobylski wouldn’t specifically say whether Davenport was expecting to close for longer than already announced. “Hopefully, this is a little four-week phenomenon,” he said. “We’re prepared for the worst and hopeful for the best.” 

 

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