The Perry School Board approved a plan Monday night to start fall classes in the same way they finished them last spring when it comes to rules about SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
Classes start Aug. 23 for first through 12th graders.
“We had a successful year last year,” said PCSD Superintendent Clark Wicks. “We’re going to go with the same plan as far as this: we will be going full days. We will be doing the same cleaning routines as what we’ve done before. Online is going to be for medically exempt students. I’ve written a letter to those people, and some of them are choosing it. Some are not.”
Wicks said he would send out Wednesday to the school board and district staff members the most current Iowa Department of Public Health recommendations concerning COVID-19 vaccinations, virus testing, school illness reporting, masks and cloth coverings, quarantine rules and other virus-related matters.
“The biggest differences that I see is this,” Wicks said. “Masks are a choice. It’s not an encouragement or a discouragement. That’s a big thing. We’re not quite sure about buses yet. The reason is you have a state mandate, a proclamation that says, ‘Masks are optional.’ You have a federal one that says, ‘On transportation, masks are required.’ We have not worked that one out yet. I’ll visit with our legal group and see what shakes out.”
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a law in May that prohibits Iowa school districts from requiring students or staff to wear face masks. The governor’s one-size-fits-all, top-down state mandate effectively nullifies all local authority.
The Perry School Board unanimously approved the Return to Learn plan for August with no discussion. Wicks did not mention the 700 unvaccinated students in the Perry Elementary School population or the virulent Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 that is surging around the country.
“So, key there: Individual choice. Return to Learn. We’re going to focus on teaching and learning. In a nutshell that’s it. Don’t want to make it too complicated. We could go into a number of different things, but we’re going to do a lot of the same effective practices that we did before,” Wicks said.
No mention is made of COVID-19 on the PCSD homepage, but there is a link to “Back to School Information” that includes the inflexible rules for the meningococcal vaccine: “There will be NO exemptions for this vaccine. All students entering seventh and 12th grade must have proof of vaccine, or they will not be allowed to start the first day of school per law.”
The COVID-19 does make a brief appearance under the homepage tab for “Vaccination Requirements,” where like an afterthought it says: “Reminder to all parents of 12-18 year old that the covid vaccine is available to them. They just need to seek their Dr. care or anywhere who gives the pfizer vaccine.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Monday that 59% of eligible Iowans have been fully vaccinated. In Dallas County, 52% of eligible residents are fully vaccinated, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health, which said this week that it expects to discard more than 200,000 doses of vaccine by the end of August due to low demand among eligible Iowans.
Perry’s 2021-2022 school year will begin as it ended in the spring in yet another way, with some 400 Perry Middle School students sharing classrooms, bathrooms, lunchrooms and the like with some 550 Perry High School students.
“It will be a very similar look to what you saw in May with the middle school back over here,” Perry Middle School Principal Ned Menke told the school board, which meets in the Dr. Eugene Brady Library of PHS. “We’re going to send out a letter tomorrow that kind of outlines the plan the we’re moving the middle school over here to the high school.”
Neither Wicks nor Menke offered a prospective end date for the $5.7 million PMS renovation project. Progress has been delayed due to supply-chain bottlenecks.
“We’re not really sure on a timeline,” Menke said. “As soon as rooms are available and deemed safe to occupy, we’re going to start making our way over there as fast as we can. We’re not going to wait for the whole middle school to get done.”
“I see hope, and I see progress,” Wicks said.