SUBSCRIBE NOW

Ames students in preschool through fifth grade will learn fully onsite beginning in November

Kiley Wellendorf
Ames Tribune

The Ames Board of Education voted 5-2 to move students in pre-K through fifth grade from a hybrid learning model to a full, onsite delivery model.

Families will still have the option to chose a fully online model for students. 

Following the Thursday evening vote, pre-K through second-graders will begin the full onsite learning model on Nov. 9. While the vote originally called for third- through fifth-graders to begin fully onsite learning Nov. 23, Superintendent Jenny Risner said she will discuss and verify the date with principals.

The 5-2 vote was done via role call:

  • Alisa Frandsen – Yes
  • Allen Bierbaum – Yes
  • Gina Perez – Yes
  • Jamet Colton – No
  • Michelle Lenkaitis – Yes
  • Monic Behnken – Yes
  • Sabrina Shields-Cook – No 

Though the district's metrics previously called for a positivity rate of 5% or below to make the change, both Dr. Kathi Arnold, emergency management coordinator, and Risner presented an updated version of those metrics to the board on Thursday, following a Wednesday meeting with Story County Public Health Officials who called for an adjustment. 

During that meeting — which included the same group of experts that created the metrics — Risner and Arnold heard suggestions from members to increase both the positivity rate and case rate. 

"It was a good time for discussion; I shared the CDC metrics with the group and shared our suggestions, had a good discussion and feedback in how we could update our metrics to reflect a better level of risk given our local (COVID-19) positivity and case count," Arnold said. 

The conclusion, Arnold said, included "increasing the 'low risk' category from less than 5 to less than 8 percent positivity," and moving the case rate from less than 10 to less than 20. 

As of noon on Thursday, Story County has a 14-day average positivity rate of 6.4%.

Risner first announced to the board her recommendation to move pre-K through second grade to a full onsite model during Monday's board session. On Wednesday, the agenda included the addition of third through fifth grades. 

"I would ask that for a minute tonight you would listen to me as your educational leader and expert in the area of education: I do have a deep understanding of the progression of learning and the long-term impact of learning loss over time," Risner said.

"I think that the data that we so desperately want right now, we don't have because it's longitudinal outcomes, it's longitudinal data that we won't have for years, but I know the hybrid model is not working for all of our learners, and that is concerning to me." 

For nearly three hours, board members shared their thoughts surrounding the decision, which included questions about the new set of metrics as well as the elementary building's ability to social distance students.

"We hired you to trust you and trust your decisions," board member Gina Perez said. "I have to go with what you're saying .. I have to trust you. I do care about our teachers; I care about classroom sizes, I care about so many things and about infection rates, but if our local public health officials are saying that it's important that we get our children back into the classroom, and you're saying it's important .. I'm going to have to go with that."

Board member Monic Behken said this is one of the many tough decisions the board has had to make.

"One of the things I've come to know about you (Risner) is I appreciate that you are always sincerely there to show up for the children," Behnken said to Risner. "I've always seen you do what is best for the students."

Both board members Jamet Colton and Sabrina Shields-Cook expressed concern over the new metrics, where Colton shared she "came prepared to vote the metrics," which previously allowed onsite learning if the positivity rate was less than 5%. 

"The way that I see the metrics today, I'm not ready to send the elementary back. I'm not ready to support it," Colton said. "I think we should go by what we said we do (which is) using the metrics; I understand we don't have the data about the student performance, so then if we don't have it .. that means that we don't have it either way."

Risner told Colton that "what you have is educational leaders, directors, principals telling you that it's not working."

Both Colton and Shields-Cook expressed concern over the new metrics while adding they were not against bringing students back.

Risner's announcement Monday of her interest in moving some students to a fully onsite model sparked mixed reactions from board members. 

"What seemed like a great plan in the summer when we never experienced this, now, in reality, is not working," she said Monday.