Statewide Iowa — The State Board of Education meeting Wednesday included a discussion about online teaching. Board member Mike May of Spirit Lake questioned how well teachers are prepared.

(As above) “I think most people would agree that in March we weren’t prepared for what happened. For whatever reason, no one anticipated anything like this would happen. It’s reasonable to assume the department couldn’t have anticipated this would happen — no one could have,” May says. “We weren’t ready. And consequently, from March to June, very little learning took place.”  

May, who is a former teacher, questioned how the situation has changed since then.

(As above) “How have we prepared teachers to be ready….teaching is an art — but how have we transitioned? What difference have we made in terms of their ability to deliver online?,” he asked

The online learning was optional once the governor shut down the schools for the year in the midst of the pandemic. The Department of Education’s Amy Williamson says they were immediately working with teachers.

(As above) “You know we made sure that we provided a substantial amount of resources to support teachers in that process — and that’s what lives in those return to learn modules, different training supports for offering a different kind of learning, and how to sort of even address public health circumstances,” Williamson says.

Williamson is the Chief of the Bureau of School Improvement and says the situation now is very different.

(As above) “Because it’s no longer voluntary — so it isn’t really an option anymore to not be successful. The professional development offered for teaching online through the A-E-A’s, some of the tools that we are providing will make teachers be better prepared for this as well,” according to Williamson. 

May still has his doubts.

(As above) “I’m skeptical that we are really prepared to be effective online teachers or instructors,” according to May. “And I think some of what you say is true. I think in some places we are — but I am not sure that that’s ubiquitous.”

Williamson says teachers won’t stop learning.

(As above) “I certainly think it’s going to be a process. It’s going to have to continue to get better as we go,” Williamson says. “But I think what you identified is that where can we make sure that if we feel our districts are falling short we can support them. To make sure that we are offering the resources to them so that they can get better — because that will be important.” 

May reiterated that he was not trying to place blame on anyone for not being prepared for the big change in teaching methods. He says he is going on what he has heard from teachers and he could be behind in knowing how prepared schools are for a new era of teaching.

August 6, 2020 - 2:38 pm - Posted in News

Statewide Iowa — Unemployment claims are down for the third straight week.

Iowa Workforce Development says the number of ongoing unemployment claims dropped by 5,072 in the last week — and are down by nearly 30,000 claims in the last three weeks.

Ongoing claims have dropped by nearly 85,000 since peaking in the second week of May. First-time unemployment claims dropped around 200 last week to 6,765.

Statewide Iowa — Governor Kim Reynolds says the source of Covid-19 outbreaks will be considered as state officials review school district requests to temporarily shift to remote learning.

The guidelines released last week indicate at least 10 percent of students must be absent in a district – AND a rolling, 14-day average of Covid-19 tests must show at least 15 percent of residents in the county or counties in which the district is located must be ill. Seven counties now meet or exceed that 15 percent threshold. Reynolds says Webster County — with a current 22 percent positivity rate — shows why it’s unlikely the state would approve an online-only option for districts in that county.

(As above) “They have, as you are very well aware of, an outbreak at the state prison there,” Reynolds said, “and that is in a completely contained environment.” 

The governor says confirmed outbreaks at businesses or institutions like a state prison are a key metric that may suggest closing a school for 14 days is not the right decision.

(As above) “The community context will be so important for schools to consider,” she says. 

And the three school districts in Webster County — Fort Dodge, Prairie Valley and Southeast Webster — should be planning to begin classes in-person this month, according to the governor.

(As above) “I think that they should make every effort to get those kids back to school,” Reynolds says. “…We have kids that are practicing football right now…and they’re figuring out a way to do it safely and responsibly.”

Reynolds indicated teachers and school staff should be allowed to work if they have been around someone who tested positive for the virus, but are not showing symptoms.

(As above) “I think it’s the guidelines that we’ve followed all along for essential workforce determined by the federal guidelines,” Reynolds says, “and our teachers absolutely fall into essential workforce.”

Dr. Caitlin Pedati, the state medical director, says if there are teacher shortages, teachers may volunteer to work even if they’ve been potentially exposed to Covid.

(As above) “We can do things to safely allow some of those critical workers to return to roles,” Pedati says, “but it includes things like monitoring of symptoms and temperature twice a day, using a face mask.” 

However, students with or without symptoms will be asked to quarantine for 14 days if they’ve been around someone who tests positive for Covid.

August 6, 2020 - 12:06 pm - Posted in News

Northwest, Iowa — Back to school time is slowly yet surely creeping up on school districts, as well as students. Due to the COVID 19 pandemic, schools across northwest Iowa have been coming up with plans that will allow students to not only return safely, but also give them an adequate learning experience.

Keep in mind that times are uncertain, and information is subject to change.

Sheldon: The Sheldon School District is planning on having students return on August 12th, and they will be taking on a face-to-face learning plan, but an online option is being offered to parents who aren’t fully comfortable with their children coming back to school just yet. Masks will be required on school buses as social distancing is not possible. It is recommended that parents, if able, provide children with transportation to school via personal vehicles. However when students are in the building, masks are not required but are HIGHLY recommended for students as well as staff. For more information about specific plans for the specific school buildings check the Sheldon Schools website.

Sibley-Ocheyedan: Face-to-face learning will begin on August 24th for students. Masks are recommended for students to wear. Static seating charts have been created in classrooms to keep students six feet apart to follow social distancing guidelines. Sports teams are planned to begin practices on August 10th, and coaches have teams working in pods to minimize contact with others. The marching band is having students practice in self-isolation / large spaces where social distancing is possible.

 

Statewide Iowa —  As drought conditions worsen in western Iowa and spread eastward, it’s raising concerns about crop production and the quality of the fall harvest.

Mark Licht, a cropping systems specialist at Iowa State University, says while the dry area is expanding, it remains a lesser part of Iowa’s overall ag production.

(As above) “In the grand scheme of things, this is a smaller area. If we go back and we think about 2018, that was a relatively small area in southeast Iowa stretching into a little bit of central Iowa, so this is a little bit larger than 2018, but not nearly as large of an area as 2012.”

Licht predicts the autumn harvest will be hurt by the summer heat wave and continuing dry spell.

(As above) “It will definitely drop yields in the west-central crop reporting district. It may affect yields slightly in the central Iowa crop reporting district,” Licht says, “but you have to keep in mind, there are parts of the state, eastern Iowa, that look really good right now.”

While some farmers are being significantly impacted, Licht says the drought area isn’t big enough to have much of an impact on overall commodity prices.

(As above) “Even with the dry conditions worsening in areas, they may be able to offset some of that but it’s a little bit hard to predict” he says.

Licht made his comments during a University of Iowa webinar on weather and drought problems.

Cedar Rapids, Iowa — An energy provider that serves northwest Iowa is letting its customers know that they are now accepting grant applications.

Alliant Energy and its Foundation are inviting community and nonprofit organizations to begin applying for community grants — the applications for which will be accepted through September 1, 2020.

Officials tell us the community grants are available for local programs and projects that benefit residents in the communities Alliant Energy serves throughout Iowa and Wisconsin. Alliant Energy and its Foundation look for opportunities and partnerships that foster intentional inclusion of diverse perspectives leading to more equitable outcomes and greater impacts for communities. These efforts focus on Hunger and Housing, Workforce Readiness, Environmental Stewardship and Diversity, Safety and Wellbeing, which resonates with Alliant Energy’s core values.

Alliant lists some examples of projects that have received grants in the past. They include meal programs to fight hunger, reading initiatives, nature restoration projects and the purchase of equipment for first responders.

Officials say grants typically range from $500 to $5,000. The Alliant Energy Foundation will communicate all grant decisions by November 1, 2020. Grants are funded solely by Alliant Energy shareowners.

For more information about Alliant Energy and its Foundation, they tell us you can visit alliantenergy.com/foundation.

Alliant provides power in George, Little Rock, all of the smaller communities in Osceola County except for Sibley, a small area on the eastern side of O’Brien County, and a very small area north and west of Matlock, plus some rural areas around these towns; and they are the natural gas provider in a number of Lyon and Osceola County towns.

Northwest Iowa — In the four northwestern-most Iowa counties, 15 more COVID-19 cases were reported on Wednesday, according to the latest statistics from the Iowa Department of Public Health.

O’Brien County was up one at 132. Sioux County is reporting over 600 cases for the first time. Their total was up ten at 607 cases. Lyon County was up four. 107 Lyon County residents have now had COVID-19. Osceola County was unchanged at 78.

Less than one percent of residents of Lyon and O’Brien counties have had COVID-19 — Lyon County has about nine-tenths of a percent, and O’Brien has between nine-tenths and a whole percent. Stats tell us that 1.29 percent of Osceola County residents have had it, and 1.74 percent of Sioux County residents have had COVID-19. The highest density in our region is in Buena Vista County, where nine percent of the population has now had COVID-19.

As far as active cases, Lyon County has 17, Sioux County has 109, O’Brien County has 36, and Osceola has 11.

Recovery rate:

Lyon — out of 107 cases, 90 have recovered, for a rate of about 84%
Sioux — out of 607 cases, 496 have recovered, for a rate of about 82%
O’Brien — out of 132 cases, 95 have recovered, for a rate of about 72%
Osceola — out of 78 cases, 67 have recovered, for a rate of about 86%

Three deaths have been confirmed in these four counties: One in O’Brien County in early June, and two in Sioux County, both reported in late July.

Total numbers of cases from other counties around the area and their change from the previous report:

Iowa counties:
Plymouth 448, up 5
Cherokee 99, up 2
Buena Vista 1789, up 3
Clay 173, up 2
Dickinson 380, up 5

These numbers reflect the period of noon Tuesday until noon Wednesday.

Rock Rapids, Iowa — A Sibley man is behind bars facing a felony charge in Rock Rapids after a recent incident in Rock Rapids.

According to the Lyon County Sheriff’s Office, Lyon County deputies were advised of a vehicle driving through the Beyenhof Mobile Home Estates in that town. The caller advised the vehicle had almost struck multiple parked vehicles.

Deputies were able to locate the vehicle and identified the driver as 33-year-old Pablo Marchessini of Sibley. Marchessini was arrested and was charged with Operating under the influence third offense, which is a class D felony; and operating a motor vehicle without an ignition interlock device, which is a simple misdemeanor.

Marchessini was booked into jail on the charges, and at last report he remained in the Lyon County Jail.

Court records indicate he will face an initial hearing on Friday, August 14th.

Des Moines, Iowa — At the state capitol Wednesday morning, Governor Kim Reynolds signed an executive order to automatically restore voting rights to most paroled felons, an idea she first proposed in early 2019.

(As said, “This is a cause on which so many Iowan’s have works on for years. It boils down to our fundamental belief of redemption and second chances.”)

The order will restore voting rights to about 40-thousand people statewide, though it will NOT apply to felons convicted of murder, manslaughter or serious sex crimes. Betty Andrews, who heads the NAACP of Iowa and Nebraska, thanked the governor for keeping her promise by signing the order.

(As said, “This is extremely important. The right to vote is a fundamental act of citizenship.”)

The governor asked fellow Republicans in the legislature to start the process of amending Iowa’s constitution, but pledged this spring to issue the order after the legislative effort stalled. The order technically restores citizenship rights and does NOT require repayment of victim restitution before a felon can vote.

Sibley, Iowa — A house, a garage, a pickup, and all contents were destroyed in a fire on Tuesday evening, August 4, 2020, in Sibley.

According to Sibley Fire Chief Ken Huls, about 7:30 p.m., the Sibley Fire Department was called to the report of a house fire at 415 Fifth Avenue in Sibley.

The chief says the fire department saw the garage was almost down as they approached the scene. When they got there, Huls tells us they found the interior of the house was fully involved in flame. He says they used water and foam to fight the fire. According to Huls, the fire in the garage extended into three floors of the house — the rafters, the main floor and the basement were all on fire. He says the fire also melted siding on a nearby house. The intense heat of the fire made it difficult to fight, says Huls. He tells us they went into a defensive posture right away and used copious amounts of water and foam to fight the blaze.

Huls says no injuries were reported. He says the occupants were home at the time, but they were alerted to the fire and went out to investigate and that’s when 911 was called.

The Sibley firefighters were assisted by the Ashton Fire Department.

He says the cause of the fire is undetermined, but they know it started in the southwest part of the garage. Huls says he doesn’t think the pickup was the cause.

Chief Huls reports that the house, the garage, a pickup in the garage, and all contents were totaled in the fire.

He says the firefighters who responded were on the scene until 11:30 p.m.