Waterloo schools shift to in-person

Lily Kettler, 7, works on an assignment in her grandmother’s in-home classroom. Grandmother Connie Lutz works with her three grandchildren, grades kindergarten, second and seventh, in her Waterloo home. Lutz said they start the day with the Pledge of Allegiance in the front yard, with neighbors even joining in. The Kettler parents work in essential jobs – one as a postal carrier and the other as a Spanish teacher in Collinsville. 

The Waterloo School District announced Tuesday afternoon that it would resume in-person learning beginning Sept. 24. 

In a letter sent to parents late Tuesday afternoon, Waterloo Superintendent Brian Charron said students in grades K-5 can physically attend school Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to noon.

Waterloo Junior High School and Waterloo High School students can resume in-person instruction from approximately 7:45 a.m. to noon beginning Sept. 30 using a hybrid model.

That means those older students will be divided into two groups, one of which will be in school Mondays and Wednesdays while the other is physically present Tuesdays and Thursdays.

All students will have remote learning on Fridays, and students will work remotely on days they are not physically in school.

The district announced in late July that it would start the year remotely.  

Full-time remote learning will also remain an option.

“We’ve been communicating with the Monroe County Health Department, and (Health Department Administrator) John Wagner indicated support for K-5 students returning. He’s OK with some junior high and high school students, but he did not want to see them back in full attendance because of how quickly they are spreading the virus,” Charron said. “The schools that have been open K-5 have not seen significant issues, and he was comfortable with us having a return of kids.” 

Waterloo’s announcement comes a day after the Columbia School Board voted to bring students back to schools using a similar approach. 

Charron said the districts have been in communication. 

According to Charron’s letter, the Waterloo School District will maintain social distancing as much as possible, limit occupancy of any space to 50 people, mandate mask usage and require parents to check their children for symptoms each day.

Parents will soon receive communication from the district that will require them to select remote learning or in-person learning.

“The health of our students, staff and community remains a top priority,” Charron wrote. “This return to in-person phase… will allow us to continue providing remote instruction and educational activities comparable to the curriculum that will be covered with in-person learning.  We feel this will be best for all students, especially considering multiple cases of quarantining are likely to occur throughout the school year.”  

The district’s switch happened after the Republic-Times solicited feedback  from Waterloo parents and students on remote learning through emails, phone calls and social media. 

The Republic-Times received responses from six individuals involved with remote learning in Waterloo, with two having mixed opinions, two being positive and two being negative.   

Those who only commented on our Facebook post are not quoted in this story. 

“I think it’s been going well, all things considered,” said Jason Jones, who has two fifth graders in Waterloo. “All the teachers are doing well right now, and you can see it because they’re making videos, making assignments and staying in touch with parents.” 

By contrast, Sarah Thomas said she is now home-schooling her daughter because remote learning was not working for her. 

“There was little to no actual instruction,” Thomas said. “The videos the teachers made were explaining how to do the assignments and not actually teaching the material.” 

A common benefit of remote learning cited by those in favor of it and those conflicted about it is that it allows for families to spend more time together. 

“I’m thankful to have her home,” Ashley Carr said of her daughter. “She is growing so fast… I get to spend more time with her this way. And in the beginning I don’t know if I believed what I was saying,  but now I do, and I am enjoying having her with me.” 

On the other hand, some lamented the lack of social interaction for students. 

“I miss having the privilege of collaborating with my fellow students,” Waterloo High School sophomore Norah Scott said. “I believe that the collaboration made us all stronger and smarter.” 

The experience for students with individualized education programs also widely differed. 

Sarah Desai said her WHS junior normally has an aide shadow him, but remote learning has been “so far so good.” 

“His aide and teachers keep me informed of assignments that are missing and if he hasn’t signed in,” she said. “I’m happy with the decision to do remote learning. For us, this is working.” 

Susan Morris, however, has helped with the schooling of her three grandchildren, two of whom have IEPs, and said the time required can become too much. 

“Juggling three tablets, lots of assignments, three Zoom schedules and time schedules for questions with teachers, as well as drop-off and pick-up for in-school help sessions, is pretty daunting,” Morris said. “It appears there is an expectation that children should learn everything at home that they would in a full-time classroom, and that is not realistic.”

Overall, individuals had almost entirely positive comments about teachers, with even those voicing concerns saying educators have done their best. 

“Waterloo second grade teachers are doing a good job,” Carr said. “This has been such a change for them, and I’m proud to say that we attend Waterloo for the hard work they have put in. They have their own children at home, and they have their children at school. (It) seems to me that they are balancing as best they know how.” 

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