Ironwood to continue with in-person classes
January 19, 2022
By ZACHARY MARANO
Ironwood — In the Ironwood Area Schools Board of Education meeting on Monday, Superintendent Travis Powell said the latest update from the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department shows that the number of COVID-19 cases and the case rate per 100,000 population in Gogebic County are the highest they’ve ever been. Despite these numbers, the school will continue with in-person classes for now.
“A year ago in November, when there were half as many cases per 100,000 as we have currently, we were shut down. So, what’s different?” Powell asked. “The health department tells us the percentage of the population that’s vaccinated is one element. The more mild — in most cases — impact of some of the current variants is another. They’re more contagious, but less virulent. Then I look at other data. Do we have enough staff to fill our classrooms and all our positions? How many of our students are here?”
The district switched to a virtual learning model from Nov. 17-29 due to staff absences. Some staff were dealing with COVID-19 while others were absent due to other medical or personal reasons. Powell said they currently have enough staff to cover their classrooms. He also said that they have been unable to fill all their paraprofessional and custodial positions but are doing the best they can.
Board member Amanda Sprague said that a new bill signed into law allows school districts to use staff members without teaching certificates as substitute teachers. She asked if the school was at the point where they need to use non-teacher-certified staff members to cover classrooms.
Powell said sometimes paraprofessionals have substituted for teachers. He said that they may use others if the situation becomes dire, but there aren’t many staff members in those positions either.
Powell said that the state requires them to have 75% student attendance to receive full credit for a school day. He said that they have not fallen below 75% attendance except for one day on Dec. 17, when there was only 66% attendance. Although the school’s attendance has mostly been above 75%, Powell said the percent of attendance has been in the low 80s and normally it would be in the mid to upper 90s. He said that 30-40% of absences are due to COVID-19.
Powell said that Dec. 17 can be considered an “act of God” or snow day, which still counts towards the required number of days for the school year. The school district has six act of God days per year and can typically petition for up to three more. He said the school has had three snow days so far, plus a two-hour delay that counts towards a fourth day.
In the past, schools would have to make up any missed days beyond the allocated act of God days at the end of the school year. However, Powell said that the school is now required to pay a financial penalty instead for any days below 75% attendance that is far less than the expense of making up the day.
Powell said that in-person learning is preferable to remote learning if they can avoid it. While the school district has teachers and staff members who are talented at remote learning, he said that he doesn’t think any of them would say it is the better option.
“I think we have talented staff who put together quality remote options, I just want to make sure we use that when we have to. I don’t think we have to yet. Depending on how the numbers unfold, it could happen within a day’s notice or at any given time,” Powell said.
Powell said that the school still recommends that everyone in the building wear masks. They are also encouraging parents to follow Centers for Disease Control guidelines for students who have close contact with a COVID-19 case, where they are recommended to quarantine for five days and then wear a mask for an additional five days.
The board of education also:
—Elected officers in an organizational meeting prior to the regular meeting. Caroline Delich was elected president, replacing Clancey Byrne, and Sprague was elected president pro tem, replacing Delich. Marilyn Nezworski and Carolyn Mieloszyk were re-elected treasurer and secretary, respectively.
—Awarded the motor oil bid for the 2021-2022 school year to Auto Value of Ironwood.